Hurricane Ivan's rampage through the southeast United States and Caribbean region hit the plastics industry on numerous levels.
Many processors and suppliers in the area were closed late last week, mostly the result of regional evacuations and loss of electricity.
As of Sept. 17, the storm and its 130 mph winds have been blamed for 13 deaths in the United States and 60 throughout the Caribbean. More than 1.6 million people in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana were reported without power early Sept. 17.
Mississippi Polymer Technologies Inc. of Bay St. Louis, Miss., closed for a few days as government officials evacuated the area along the Gulf of Mexico. ``We shut down Tuesday at noon and reopened this morning,'' said Toni Taglialavore on Sept. 17.
When MPT employees returned, they learned the Bay St. Louis area, about 50 miles east of New Orleans, had been spared major damage. ``Everything's fine. We never got anything,'' said Taglialavore, who works in marketing and sales at the maker of specialty Parmax polymers.
The evacuation was difficult. Taglialavore said her family spent 14 hours in the car getting out of Bay St. Louis.
Next up is Tropical Storm Jeanne. ``I don't know. I haven't had time to worry about that one yet,'' she said.
Ivan swung through Alabama, causing widespread flooding. At American Precision Products, an injection molder in Huntsville, business was normal. ``Just strong gusts of wind, trees down. Nothing major,'' a spokeswoman said.
As the week ended, heavy rains caused widespread flooding through the Carolinas. ``There's been extensive inconvenience and there's been some deaths in this area,'' said Rick Sturgis, director of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s southern region in Greenville, S.C.
On Sept. 17, Sturgis said the Greenville area was getting wind gusts, trees down and some flooding. The rain was intermittent, but the ground already was saturated from Hurricane Frances, he said.
Ivan caused spin-off tornadoes in Georgia and South Carolina. Even if plastics factories were not damaged, employees have had a difficult time getting to work in areas hit by the storms, Sturgis said.
``It's just been a wild year,'' he said.
For Industrias Vassallo Inc. of Ponce, Puerto Rico, Ivan can stay out of the mess created at its Lake Wales, Fla., rotational molding facility. The Terror Twins known as Charley and Frances did enough damage. Although 75 percent of the machinery is unharmed, officials will have to erect a new building, said Salvador Vassallo, chief executive officer, in a Sept. 17 telephone interview. Officials are working with the insurance company to get the facility operating as soon as possible, but they also face this quandary: Since everyone is fleeing the state, who will actually do the work?
To add salt to the wounds, Tropical Storm Jeanne came on strong in Puerto Rico, pushing the Puerto Rican government to purposely shut off the power.
``The hurricanes are driving me crazy,'' Vassallo said from his cell phone as he assessed the mess in Lake Wales. ``The [Puerto Rican] government assured us we will have power today. This has been a very big problem for all manufacturing in Puerto Rico. We had 22 inches of rain in three days. Thank God I make kayaks. That's what we're using for transportation around town.''
Ivan's impact on Gulf Coast plastics and chemicals plants wasn't as harsh as feared. The storm turned east into Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle and avoided many plants in Louisiana.
The most significant outage was reported in Pensacola, Fla., where a nylon resin plant operated by Solutia Inc. and a thermoplastic vulcanizate plant operated by Advanced Elastomer Systems LP both were knocked out of commission. The two plants sit on the same property, since Solutia was formerly a partner in AES.
Solutia spokesman Dan Jenkins said officials were having difficulty contacting the plant. AES officials had no information available at press time.
In Pascagoula, Miss., a benzene plant operated by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP also was closed. Benzene is a feedstock used in many plastics, including polystyrene, PET, polycarbonate and nylon.
Resin companies also could be affected by shutdowns at numerous natural-gas refineries in and around Mobile, Ala., since natural gas is a key feedstock in more than half of all North American polyethylene production.
Officials at Wellman Inc. were unavailable to provide information on the firm's PET resin plant in Bienville, Miss.
Staff reporters Bill Bregar, Angie DeRosa and Frank Esposito contributed to this report.