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Shipping problems next hurdle for firms hit by Florence

Plastics companies in North Carolina and the Southeastern U.S. are resuming production but now must deal with shipping problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

The Category 1 hurricane made landfall on Sept. 14, then dumped 36 inches of rain in some parts of North Carolina. At one point, more than 1 million people in the state were without power, 20,000 were in shelters, and 1,600 roads were closed because of flooding and debris.

The deaths of at least 42 people -- 31 in North Carolina, nine in South Carolina and two in Virginia -- have been attributed to Florence.

First responders rescued thousands of people from flooded neighborhoods and cars, including about 400 in the coastal town of New Bern, N.C., which endured 10 feet of storm surge and almost 9 inches of rain. President Donald Trump visited there Sept. 19.

PetroChem Wire reported that BP restarted its PTA chemical plant in Cooper River, S.C., by Sept. 19 following a shutdown prior to Florence making landfall.

The status of DAK Americas PET resin and staple fiber plant, also at Cooper River, was not immediately available, PetroChem Wire stated.

Jason Kinnear, general manager of Carolina Technical Plastics Corp., which is in New Bern, said the injection molding plant sustained no real damage but shipping issues persist and the company hasn’t made contact with all 150 of its workers, many of whom heeded evacuation orders.

Kinnear said in Sept. 20 phone interview that he weathered the storm at his New Bern house and made it to the facility, which is on higher ground than much of the city, on Sept. 16.

“For New Bern, being one of the focuses of getting hammered pretty hard, we fared well,” Kinnear said.

He was relieved to find only one tree blocking a driveway and a very minor facility issue.

“We lost the blue ‘C’ and ‘A’ in our name on the building,” Kinnear said. “We found the ‘C’ on the roof but the ‘A’ is still MIA.”

The plant’s power had also been restored by the time he arrived to assess the damage. CT Plastics was able to resume operations Sept. 17, Kinnear said. However, the business is having trouble getting some products to customers, especially those in the automotive industry that use their global chains to pick up orders from manufacturers.

“The problem is that the highways in and out flooded in sections and the [customers’] trucks can’t get through,” Kinnear said. “We ended up going to the local truckers. They’re at the coffee shop early in the morning talking to everyone about what’s open and what isn’t. They know back roads and back ways to get around things. As of last night, we got everything out. It’s parts for BMW, Daimler and the like.”

CT Plastics also had moved some products from New Bern to its facility near Greenville, S.C., as part of its storm preparations. That eased some shipping woes.

“We freight forwarded from there,” Kinnear said. “They got a lot of rain but nothing that flooded the streets or had any real impact from a business standpoint.”

While many roads have been cleared of downed debris, travel remains treacherous in large areas of eastern and coastal North Carolina. Sections of Interstates 95 and I-40 remain closed due to flooding, and there were more than 740 road closures statewide at press time Sept. 21.

At CT Plastics, Kinnear said almost 95 percent of the employees have returned to work, although some that evacuated are still making their way back. The business, which also serves the home appliances and rail industries, now is making up for lost production time.

“We lost four days of production so we’ll be tight for a while.,” Kinnear said. “There’s no doubt about that, and in general, the customers have been very understanding. They’re working with us on schedules.”

Duke Energy Employees from electrical utility Duke Energy worked to repair damaged power lines in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence.

Moody’s Analytics expects the value of property damage and disruption from Hurricane Florence to reach at least $17 billion $22 billion. The anticipated loss to economic output is $1 billion to $2 billion, which represents a 0.2 percentage point hit to GDP, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist.

The storm also halted production for CT Plastics’ largest customer, BSH Appliances, which manufactures Bosch and Thermador brand products in New Bern and also has a distribution center in the city.

“We’re 50 percent or more of the plastic in every dishwasher made in America,” Kinnear said.

BSH’s manufacturing site shuttered its operations at 1 p.m. Sept. 13, and had no power yet at the start of the following week, although a spokeswoman said there was no other damage or flooding.

In nearby Trenton, N.C., Rowmark LLC remained closed Sept. 20 but steps taken ahead of the storm, which at one point was a Category 4, will allow the staff to begin producing its engraved plastic products as soon as possible.

“We were well prepared and are in good shape,” a Rowmark operations official said through an assistant.

Amyris Inc., which produces bio-based materials such as elastomer products from alternative sources, was preparing to begin operations again Sept. 20 at its facility in Leland, N.C., after being without electricity most of the week.

“We’re pleased to have power restored at the Leland, N.C., plant. We’re following all safety procedures to ensure that production resumes without incident,” Beth Bannerman, senior vice president for corporate communication, said in an email to Plastics News on Sept. 20.

Leland is about 10 miles away from Wilmington, a city of 120,000 that was inaccessible by land for nearly a day because of flooding. Emergency workers announced Sept. 17 that they finally cleared debris from one major road and opened it with limited access.

Further inland, CMI Plastics in Ayden, N.C., was able to restart production of thermoformed packaging and parts after being closed Sept. 13-14.

“We fared well. No damage to the building,” Stephen Hasselbach Jr., sales and business development director, said in a Sept. 17 email.

By 5 p.m. Sept. 20, about 73,500 homes and businesses were still without power, some 6,000 people remained in shelters and 24 school districts were closed.

Kinnear was among those still in the dark at his home, which he said is about 100 yards from the Neuse River that flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. Several trees came down on his property when the storm blew through and Kinnear remains on high alert.

“The biggest problem we have is being in the Neuse River basin,” he said. “All that rain that falls inland north of us kind of rushes back through here so we typically flood 6-7 days after the crest of the river, which is planned for today [Sept. 20] through Saturday [Sept. 22].”

Although many communities are lifting evacuation orders and cleaning up, Gov. Roy Cooper has warned North Carolinians that major flooding is still occurring across many rivers in the state.

“Many storm deaths occur after the storm has passed, especially when rivers overflow their banks or when people try across flooded roads,” Cooper cautioned Sept. 20. “Don’t drive in flood waters or around barricades.”

Federal aid also is on the way for people in 18 counties, he said, and the U.S. Small Business Administration has opened a business recovery center in Greenville, N.C., to help storm-impacted businesses. For more information about the SBA loan process, call 800-659-2955 or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

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» Publication Date: 21/09/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [605658].

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