Processors work to resume production, slowly, in Houston

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Houston Police Department Houston Police Department officers assist in a rescue in a flooded neighborhood.

At plastics processing plants near Houston and other regions along the Gulf Coast, managers and employees are taking note of any damage and making plans to bring production fully back on line.

Production at American Bag Manufacturing Inc. in Houston is expected to resume early next week following repairs to a damaged roof that let in the pounding rains of Hurricane Harvey.

Sam Trevino, who works in sales, was the first employee to make it to the facility.

“I live nearby and I’m the only who could find routes to drive around the water and get here,” Trevino said Aug. 30 in a phone interview. “I’m tearing out carpet, taking orders and answering some emails.”

The operation closed Aug, 24, he said, as Hurricane Harvey gained strength and took aim at the Texas coast. It made landfall a day later as a Category 4 storm. The business makes plastic bags for grocery store customers to package their in-house baked goods and deli items like breads and seafood.

“We have inventory in stock and that will get us through until we’re up again,” Trevino said. “It’ll be tight until we catch up but we should be OK.”

Similar scenarios played out at many plastics processors coping with the aftermath of Harvey and its torrential rains. Nearly 700 businesses in the state sustained damage from Harvey, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Texas ranks third in the U.S. for plastics employment and first in plastics shipments, according to the Plastics Industry Association. The association has 49 members in Texas, including 16 in hard-hit Houston.

Last year, Texas accounted for 16.8 percent of U.S. shipments, the association says. The estimated value exceeded $68 billion, which is equivalent to $1.3 billion a week. Businesses are eager to resume schedules.

After pumping out a couple inches of flood water, Integrated Molding Solutions Inc. reopened in Houston, but with a skeleton crew.

“We’re better off than some businesses. That’s for sure,” Production Manager Bob Berndt said in a phone interview Aug. 30. “We were shut down about three days and we’ve called back employees. Some have made it in but others have problems. Their neighborhoods are flooded and they just can’t get out.”

The injection molder serves some major customers like Baker Hughes, Hewlett Packard, Jabil and Foxconn and the limited staff is trying to catch up.

“We were pretty busy,” Berndt said. “Being down for three days puts us significantly behind.”

All-Plastics LLC in Addison, Texas, has extra capacity and is offering to help any businesses dealing with building damage, equipment problems or other issues related to the first major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since 2005, along with the record rainfall it brought.

“It’s a tragedy to see everything that has unfolded with this storm,” Marketing Manager Jennifer Latiolais said in a phone interview. “We’re here to support the businesses that need our help due to the tragedy of Harvey. We’ve been very lucky. We haven’t been affected at all. If any Texas injection molders need help, they can call us. They’re local to us and if they reach out, we can talk directly.”

GSE Environmental Inc., which extrudes geosynthetic lining systems in Houston, weathered the storm, thanks to preparations made during a controlled shutdown Aug. 25-26 that included pumping down some storm water ponds at the site.

“I’m sure it helped. We had some place for the excess water to go. When the rain came it was bands that produced 5 inches an hour then it slowed and you’d be hit hard again. For a couple days it didn’t stop,” Steve Eckhart, vice president of marketing, said in a phone interview Aug. 31 on the day its offices reopened.

Most of the 200 employees returned to work. Some of the production crew had made it in earlier and began heating the eight extrusion lines back up on Aug. 29.

Helping out employees

Two GSE employees, however, had to evacuate their homes. The business put them up in a hotel. One woman, who is 7½ months pregnant, will be able to return to her house but not the other employee.

“One had 6 feet of water in her house. That’ll be a loss,” Eckhart said.

Vicky Despeaux, human resources manager at SemaSys Inc., which manufactures point-of-purchase products, also said some of their 60 employees in Houston are facing personal losses while the corporate office and plant were spared water and wind damage.

“They’re dealing with flooding and had to evacuate,” Despeaux said in a phone interview. “One had water to the ceiling and will have to completely rebuild. Another had 20 inches of water in the house. We’ve reached out to them and we’re trying to put plans in place to help get them through this disaster. It’s pretty frightening. I’ve lived through it. A number of years ago I lost my home to Tropical Storm Allison.”

Despeaux volunteered at a shelter Aug. 29 and was assigned to collect bedding and towels for displaced residents.

“People waited in line to drop off donations,” she said. “It was pretty amazing. About 7 p.m., probably a thousand people were brought in to sleep. Lots of universities and churches have opened their doors. People are working to make others as comfortable as they can be. The wonderful thing is how people have come together.”

Parker Hannifin Corp., which specializes in seals for motion and control technologies, has a disaster relief fund to provide money directly to personnel coping with damage and flooding. The Cleveland-based company has 11 facilities and 356 employees in the greater Houston area.

At other business, Berry Plastics Global Group Inc. closed two plants indefinitely to assess damage — in Victoria and Beaumont — while Inteplast Group said it expected to reopen its Lolita operations on Aug. 30.

Berry extrudes institutional can liners and retail trash bags in Victoria while the Beaumont facility reprocesses resins, Amy Waterman, global marketing communications manager for the Evansville, Ind.-based company, said in an email.

The company issued a statement Aug. 29 saying, “Production has been idled until we evaluate the extent of the damage and make necessary repairs to ensure the safe return to operation. To the best of our knowledge, no employee injuries occurred. This weather event remains ongoing, as the Texas Gulf Coast is continuing to receive significant rainfall. The company is working with our customers and vendors to minimize the impact.”

Inteplast extrudes PVC products, such as decking, molding, siding and reusable shopping bags, at its 575-acre Lolita campus, which has numerous buildings.

“Although our Lolita site sustained roof and other structural damages, thank God we were largely spared and thus we should be able to recover quickly for the sake of all our employees as well as customers,” Inteplast Group President John Young said in an Aug. 29 announcement.

Some employees worked around the clock to minimize damage at the facility “despite outages and losses at home,” Young added.

Although manufacturing at the site will ramp up again, shipping and receiving products could remain a problem. Inteplast plans to use “the fully functioning roads” in San Antonio and Austin as alternative transportation routes.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm with 130-mile winds. Then, the weather system battered the Houston area for six days, dropping more than 50 inches of rain and setting a record for total rainfall from a single tropical storm, according to the National Weather Service.

Local officials have reported more than 30 storm-related deaths in Texas before the storm moved east toward Louisiana.

The Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP) contacted dozens of its members in Texas to see if any need help and to remind them about the special online forum created for these situations.

“We have a response network on our website. It’s our member forum and you can reach out for help,” MAPP Marketing Director Marcella Kates said. “We have an emergency alert system to quickly email other members in an instant, if for example, their machine is down and they need something ASAP.”

The American Red Cross also is collecting products to help with disaster relief and the Plastics Industry Association is asking its members to contribute. The relief agency is seeking donations of 17,000 tarps, 19,000 storage totes and 3,000 coolers.

The Red Cross needs:

• Mold-resistant high density polyethylene tarps that have been UV-treated on both sides and have rope-reinforced hemmed edges.

• 20-to-30-gallon plastic totes with lids for storing and transporting items.

• Coolers that hold 28 to 36 quarts.

“They anticipate needing these items throughout the next several weeks, so please consider giving even if you need to ship the items in September,” an association letter says. To donate, contact Tim Wahlers, a regional philanthropy officer at the American Red Cross, at 703-638-2906 or tim.wahlers@redcross.org.

In addition, employees of Progressive Components Inc., which develops tooling components, are collecting items and coordinating delivery to the hardest hit areas. The Wauconda, Ill.-based company also is providing a monetary match to what is collected as well as help to Texas businesses it deals with in the form of extended payment terms and expedited orders.

“The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and the unprecedented flooding that is happening in Houston and the surrounding areas is beyond comprehension,” owners Don Starkey and Glenn Starkey said in a letter. “As image after image comes across the media, our hearts are breaking a little more for you and all our friends in the region.”