Three days after the storm hit, Heritage Plastics Inc. owner Carl Allen still was trying to measure the impact of Hurricane Katrina on his firm's compounding plant in Picayune, Miss.
``The eye of the storm came right over our plant,'' Allen said by phone Sept. 1. ``A big part of our roof was ripped off, and the power company says we might not have electricity for two weeks.
``Our production equipment wasn't affected, but we took a lot of damage to our office and inventory areas. The town of Picayune is just devastated.''
Allen drove to the site from the Dallas area, about eight hours away, arriving in the early morning hours of Aug. 29.
``I'm on the highway and I'm the only one going east,'' he said. ``On the other side, it was solid traffic heading west.''
The storm hit about 6 a.m., leaving Allen to ride it out - along with three employees, an employee's husband and a friend who made the trip with him - in a hurricane shelter underneath a docking area at one of the two 110,000-square-foot buildings Heritage occupies in Picayune.
Before entering the shelter, Allen had what he called ``a Dorothy moment'' inside the plant. ``Part of the roof had come off and the wind was throwing these 60-pound wooden pallets around like they were paper plates,'' he said. ``Then [the pallets] just disappeared.''
One of the employees had come to the site with her husband after fleeing their home in Slidell, La. Allen said the couple ``didn't know where else to go'' and later learned their house had been destroyed.
Allen and his group watched coverage of the storm on a battery-operated television, but their hours spent in the 140-square-foot shelter were far from easy.
``We didn't get any rain in there, but we heard the plywood blow off the outside,'' he said. ``I was thinking, `What am I doing here? I've got kids at home.' ''
The eye of the storm brought calm that lasted for about an hour, until the rain resumed at a lesser intensity. By 4 p.m., Allen was able to venture out and drive south on Route 59.
``There were trees down all over the place, in both directions,'' he said. ``We were literally driving from side to side and driving in the median to avoid the trees. I was in awe of the devastation.''
Allen later learned a gas station he drove by while on that ride exploded several minutes later because of a gas leak.
Damage to the Heritage plant was estimated ``in the millions,'' but Allen said most of that amount will be covered by insurance. In the meantime, he's working to obtain a pair of large generators that will allow the plant to operate at about 40 percent of capacity to meet customer orders. Heritage operates about 300 million pounds of polyolefin compounding capacity in Picayune.
Allen estimates 25 of Heritage's 200 employees ``lost everything'' in the storm. Employees from a Heritage Bag Co. plant in Tupelo, Miss. - run by Heritage Plastics' sister firm - were driving supplies to Picayune.
The Tupelo employees ``are bringing in water, food, batteries - whatever they might need'' to Picayune, Allen said.