A year and a half after Hurricane Katrina flooded its New Orleans factory, Baumer Foods Inc. is bottling Crystal Hot Sauce in Louisiana.

One production line is packing 6-ounce bottles in the St. John the Baptist Parish city of Reserve, company vice president Marwan Kabbani said Wednesday.

Baumer had to turn to private-label bottlers for help after as much as 5 feet of water inundated its 60-year-old plant in New Orleans. Competitors in Baltimore, North Carolina, Tennessee and elsewhere bottled the hot sauce, two steak sauces and a relatively new product, Hickory Liquid Smoke.

Most of the corporate staff came from the Metairie office on Tuesday to watch the first bottling line.

"It's like being in the desert without any water for a long time, and then you see a well, and all you can say is 'wow,"' Kabbani said. He chuckled.

Before the hurricane, Baumer ran four bottling lines for 24 hours, five days a week, employing more than 220 people. It posted $54 million in sales in 2004.

Kabbani wouldn't discuss present profits. He said Baumer plans to have three more lines functional by April or May and do away with the third-party packers.

He said the storm let Baumer revamp and modernize its packing process to be more productive, but a permanent packing schedule has not been solidified.

Baumer signed a 15-year lease with the Port of Louisiana a year ago for its new plant, the former home of Constar Plastics Inc. As an incentive to move, St. John Parish government will pay $10,000 a month for 16 months toward the company's rent.