VA. PORTS LOSE A DAY OUT OF FEAR FROM FELIX UNCERTAINTY OVER STORM WREAKS HAVOC

VA. PORTS LOSE A DAY OUT OF FEAR FROM FELIX UNCERTAINTY OVER STORM WREAKS HAVOC

Coast Guard officials reopened the Chesapeake Bay shipping channel Thursday, putting Virginia Port Authority terminals back in business with roughly a day's loss of operations at the hands of Felix, the storm that still lingered menacingly about 160 miles offshore.

Norfolk area shipping was "paralyzed by uncertainty, not by the storm," a maritime executive said in summing up the precautionary measures the Coast Guard, port officials and ship captains took against Felix' threat.As the storm approached the mid-Atlantic region earlier this week, ships sped for the safety of the open sea while ports tied down cranes, protected warehouses and piers against flooding and lowered container stacks. Amtrak canceled coastline services.

"It's back to business as usual," Joe Dorto, general manager of

Virginia International Terminals Inc., said shortly after the Coast Guard opened the mouth of the bay to waiting ships. VIT operates the VPA's Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News terminals.

Mr. Dorto said he could not estimate "from a dollar standpoint" the value to the port of loading and unloading work lost to storm precautions.

He said it was too early to tell which, if any, ships had diverted from VPA terminals, or if the port would gain from diversions from other weather- plagued East Coast ports.

"We've simply put off yesterday's work to today," he said Thursday. VPA terminals expect to service 24 ships over the next three days.

Wilson Browning, president of W.J. Browning Co., a Hampton Roads ship agent, had a coal ship nearly loaded when it was forced to leave the dock and head out to sea. Bringing the ship back to the pier to complete the loading was expected to set its schedule back at least 18 hours.

"We are still living in a period of uncertainty," Mr. Browning said. He speculated that some congestion could occur if inbound ships that have taken evasive action from the storm area all converge on the port at once.

Other East Coast port officials likewise were breathing easier.

Karen Fox, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina State Ports Authority, said: "It's back to business as usual" at Wilmington and Morehead City. ''But we haven't undone our hurricane preparedness measures and won't until the storm decides what to do."

Rebecca Barber, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, said Baltimore terminals resumed normal operations and experienced no losses or downtime as a result of the bay entrance closure and hurricane watch status.

The port had ships at pier, en route in the Chesapeake Bay, and at two entrances via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, she said.

Marine traffic in the Philadelphia area was normal, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said, adding that the captain of the port hadn't imposed any restriction on vessel traffic along the Delaware River, the main route for the transportation of feedstocks and products to and from refineries in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.