2005 HurricanesPHOTO DIARY:Picking Up the Pieces
Hurricane Katrina battered cane farms just outside of New Orleans. Heavy winds blew over cane stalks, making the crop difficult to harvest and lowering the canes sugar content.
But sugar farmers knew that it could have been a lot worse. They felt fortunate that Katrinas wrath was not more severe, until
they learned what happened to the states most important sugar refinery.
Domino Sugars refinery in Chalmette was crippled for four months.It refines 50-55% of Louisianas sugarcane crop and produces nearly 19% of Americas refined cane sugar.
Water levels rose to 9 feet in the rear of the plant. Flood waters destroyed the plants two electricity-generating substations. Electrical equipment on the refinerys first floor was demolished.
Nearly 8 million pounds of refined sugar in the warehouse was flooded, creating a gooey mess about two-feet deep.
The refinery became a staging ground for rescue operations.
215 of the refinerys 295 employees were left homeless, and many resided in mobile homes at the refinerya community nicknamed Chateau Domino.
Their lives changed forever, the men and women of Chateau Domino turned their attention to repairing homes and the refinery.
Many said the Chalmette refinery would never operate again. They were wrong. The refinery reopened its doors on Dec. 12.
Weeks after Katrina, Hurricane Rita came calling, leaving more than 30,000 acres of Louisiana sugarcane under salt water. Thats enough water to flood 70% of Washington, DC.
Murky lakes replaced cane fields throughout the southern part of the state.
Only after days of draining and pumping did the tips of eight-foot-tall cane reappear. This field was still under 5 to 6 feet of salt water.
When the water finally receded, debris was left behind. This farmers home was swept off of its foundation and dropped in the middle of his cane field 200 yards away.
Another farmer was even more surprised to find shrimp boats from the Gulf on his land.
Debris made harvest, which had to be delayed more than two weeks, more difficult and much more expensive.
Explosive tanks that littered the fieldsmany buried by sludgealsomade harvest more dangerous.
Young cane in recently planted fields died and had to be replanted. Because planting accounts for roughly 30% of a farmers operating costs, flooded fields will be money losers for years to come.
131,000 tons of Louisiana sugar was lost during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.Damage to the Louisiana cane industry is expected to total $128 million.
The industry and the communities it supports must be rebuilt. Louisiana will need a stable U.S. sugar policy.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasnt done. Hurricane Wilma parked over the sugar-growing region of Florida, pounding the area with 100 mph winds for 5 hours.
Every sugar field in the state was hit, and 100% of Floridas sugar crop was flattened and damaged.
Sugar mills in the state werent spared either.
Farm equipment was lost
rail cars used to transport sugar were toppled
and sugar storage sheds were compromised.
Total sugar production loss is estimated at 531,000 tons, and damage to Floridas sugar industry will exceed $500 million.
Like their colleagues in Louisiana, Floridas sugar producers need sugar policy stability.
Congress should extend Americas no-cost sugar policy.It has a proven track record and will be key to Louisiana and Florida rebuilding efforts.