Sorting through the damage caused by Hurricane Charley is a formidable task, but plastics companies in Florida are getting back to work.
``Physically, the plant is doing real well,'' said Jeff King, president of King Plastics Corp., a sheet and shapes maker in North Port, Fla.
``Our biggest issue is employees,'' he said by telephone. ``At least half have sustained immediate damage to their homes.''
The company has been operating with reduced staff since Aug. 16, but hoped to be back to full strength the week of Aug. 23. The hurricane barreled into Florida on Aug. 13, with winds reaching 145 miles per hour in Punta Gorda, 25 miles north of Fort Myers. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm at the time, traversed the state from the southwest islands to the northeast corner. The death toll as of Aug. 19 stood at 22.
Rounding up employees has proved difficult because many areas still are without utility services. Evan DeWulf, president of Fort Myers compounder Chem Polymer Corp., said that while the plant was up and running Aug. 15, most of his employees did not get their power back until a day or two later.
``The biggest problem is utilities. No power, no phone and some employees don't have water,'' he said.
Hurricane Charley missed Tervis Tumbler Co.'s headquarters in Osprey, Fla., by 15-20 miles, said marketing director Marnee O'Neil. ``We feel very lucky,'' she said.
Still, a handful of employees at the maker of insulated polycarbonate drinking glasses have been told their homes will be without power until the end of the month.
PGT Industries Inc., a vinyl and aluminum window maker headquartered in Nokomis, Fla., weathered the storm, but 900 of the company's 1,800 employees live in Charlotte county, where the heaviest damage occurred.
``A lot of their employees were at ground zero when the hurricane hit,'' said Carol Blades, a spokeswoman representing PGT.
PGT put together a disaster relief center at its plant and stocked it with food and water. The company bought 150 generators, allowing for showers, and cold drinks and other essentials like flashlights, batteries and diapers were available.
Immediately after the storm, the company was unable to contact 600 of the 900 workers living in Charlotte County. In an effort to reach them, PGT chartered an airplane to fly over the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte area with the banner ``PGT Employee Relief Available at Plant or Call.'' By Aug. 20, the firm had reached almost all of its employees.
Winds hit 75 mph in Fort Myers and 100 mph in North Port, where King Plastics is based. ``Trust me, it was howling pretty good,'' said Jeff King, who weathered the storm at the facility.
In the wake of the hurricane, Floridians are banding together to help those who have lost their homes. O'Neil said she planned to volunteer over the weekend in Arcadia, a town 60 miles inland that ``is basically gone.'' King said the government has been doing a good job of organizing relief efforts, local businesses have been providing financial aid and clothing and the Red Cross has been vital as well.
As many as 400,000 Floridians still were without power five days after the storm hit.
``One benefit is, while we had a pretty robust disaster plan in effect, there's nothing like the real thing to show those vulnerabilities in place,'' DeWulf said. ``Once you go through it you realize that things like cell phones don't work because the towers don't have power.''