Located on the 14, 500-mile Mississippi River inland waterway system, the deepwater Port of New Orleans is one of America’s leading general cargo ports (www.portno.com). Steel, grain, containers of manufactured goods, rubber, copper, plywood and coffee move through the port every day. So when things go wrong in New Orleans, the impact is felt around the world. It is the leading port for the movement of imported steel from countries like Japan, Brazil, Russia and Mexico as well as the nation’s premier coffee handling port, with 14 coffee warehouses and six coffee roasting facilities within a 20-mile radius.

To handle this enormous flow of goods, New Orleans has become the country’s most intermodal port. About 75 truck lines, 50 ocean carriers, 16 barge lines and six class one rail lines help to move cargo in and out of the port, an average of 11.2-million tons per year. No wonder Standard & Poor’s estimated on Tuesday that Katrina could slightly lower the entire nation’s economic growth for the third quarter.

Where will all that freight go? How will the disruption impact commodity prices and the availability of finished goods? Alternative plans are just now emerging, one shipper at a time.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, steel shipments will probably head to Houston where inland transport could cost much more, while bananas and other shipments may go to Florida and Texas. Exporters will also have to find new avenues out of the country. Among exporters expected to be hardest hit are Southern fruit producers, lumber producers and frozen chicken suppliers, which all depend on the Port of New Orleans to ship their goods abroad.

For the 75 carriers servicing the port, road closures are making it much tougher to get anywhere near the badly damaged facility at all. According to some reports, US 90 is unusable in many sections, the I-10 twin span in New Orleans is gone, the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge is destroyed, much of the causeway crossing the Mobile Alabama Delta is still closed and the I-10 Hazardous Materials route via the Cochrane Bridge over Mobile Bay is down to one lane in each direction. And surface streets everywhere are flooded and blocked with debris. It is a logistical nightmare that will keep many of the country’s carriers busy for weeks and months to come.