TORONTO — A massive ice storm disrupted plastics operations in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, and officials said some rural areas might not regain electrical power until late January.
The storm's worst effects were felt in a triangular area roughly bounded by Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario, and Montreal, where electric power outages lasted for days. One of the badly hit plants was Twinpak Inc.'s Granby, Quebec, facility, which makes plastic squeeze tubes for cosmetics and personal-care items. Ice buildup knocked out regional power lines, forcing Twinpak to shut Granby on Jan. 7. The firm said it could take two weeks for power to resume.
Spokeswoman Nicole Girard said Twinpak was somewhat lucky because its Montreal office, where the firm is based, was closed for only 11/2 days. Much of downtown Montreal shut down as crews tried to remove ice as thick as 5 inches from buildings before it could plummet onto streets and pedestrians.
The Canadian Plastics Industry Association has had trouble reaching members in the worst-hit areas south of Montreal, said Dean Dussault, CPIA's health and safety director for the Quebec region. Several processors and recyclers were unreachable by telephone as of Jan. 14. Dussault said CPIA's Montreal office was running without its computers, and lights were at half power because Quebec Hydro urged all operating companies to cut power use as utility crews tried to replace and repair the power grid.
Freezing rain and high winds knocked out five of the six major power lines into Montreal. Hundreds of giant electricity towers crumbled in the onslaught.
Sheet extruder Federal Plastics Manufacturing Ltd. of Montreal shut down for two days beginning Jan. 8, noted David Grunberger, vice president of sales.
``But it could have been worse,'' he said, since many of Federal's local customers still were not operating when he was interviewed Jan. 14. ``Outside the province our customers are very understanding [about delays].''
Petromont Inc. stopped producing high density polyethylene resin for three days, but resumed Jan. 12 after getting permission from Hydro Quebec, said corporate secretary Louis Rail. Eight electric pylons near its Varennes, Quebec, ethylene feedstock plant ``folded like pieces of paper,'' Rail said. Petromont, forced to make allocations for some HDPE grades, did not declare force majeure.
Quebec processors outside the ice-laden zone reported business pretty much as usual. Custom molder and extruder IPL Inc. of St. Damien, 180 miles east of Montreal, experienced heavy snow but has kept running since the first of the year, said marketing and sales director Jean-Yves Bacle. Molder Plastiques Rawdon Inc., just 40 miles north of Montreal in Rawdon, was ``lucky, we never ran out of power,'' a spokesman said.
Eastern Ontario has a smaller concentration of plastics firms than Montreal, but these too were hit hard. Collins & Aikman Plastics Ltd., a major auto parts molder, shut down its presses from Jan. 7-11. Office staff survived the first days of shutdown by using portable generators to run computers, said Margaret Ivey, inside sales coordinator.
``It was the most incredible nightmare'' with 3 solid inches of ice covering all outside surfaces, Ivey recalled. The office ran with a skeleton crew and was without phone service much of the time. ``But [our delays] didn't shut [any customers] down.''
Upstate New York did not escape the storm's brunt. Plattsburgh-based cap and jar molder Mold-Rite Plastics Inc. was down five days, but ``it doesn't look like we lost any business,'' said Paul Titherington, president. The 65-press operation doubled its lead times to four to five days despite running overtime.
Another Plattsburgh processor, Duopac Plastics LLC, lost two days of production.
Seda Specialty Packaging Corp., also in Plattsburgh, closed for 21/2 days beginning Jan. 7, said purchasing manager Floyd Spoor, who expected the plant to run at less-than-full capacity for 10 days.
One Vermont firm actually benefited from the storm's wrath. Shelburne Plastics Inc. in Shelburne tripled bottle shipments to some of its dairy customers because they switched to bottling water after dumping milk supplies. Unreliable power forced many Quebec and Vermont dairies to discard milk because they could not ensure proper pasteurization and refrigeration.
Shelburne Plastics customer service representative Anne Williams said shipments to Canada were bogged down by red tape because border crossings were without power. Bar coding and electronic systems were not working, forcing border officials to do paperwork manually.
Canadian government officials estimate the storm's damage could reach $2 billion (US$1.4 billion), making it the largest natural disaster in the country's history.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association calculated the storm has been costing business C$100 million (US$70 million) daily in lost production. At its peak, the storm cut power to about 3 million Canadian households and businesses.
Plastics News correspondent Roger Rowand contributed to this story.