Yash Awasthi, vice president of operations at PET resin manufacturer AlphaPet Inc., had a first-hand experience with a line of storms and tornadoes that hit the company's Decatur, Ala., plant on April 27. AlphaPet's parent company, Bangkok, Thailand-based Indorama Ventures Public Co. Ltd., shared Awasthi's story today in a news release headlined "Personal description of the tornados that hit Alabama in April 2011." His story is so powerful that I'm sharing it with Plastics Blog readers. It's very interesting to see how a company dealt with the disaster, as well as the local and corporate response in the aftermath. Perhaps it will help other companies with their disaster preparedness planning. Here's Awasthi's story: "It was a day of tornado warnings: 141 warnings, one after the other. The weathermen had predicted damaging winds throughout the day. The first siren went off at 10:00 am and all of us evacuated the plant and gathered at the designated spot next to the break room. After a while, we received the all clear signal and went back to our work areas. At 11:15 I got a grim forecast of what was about to happen. One of the DCS operators was watching the rooftop security camera and spotted a twister north of us and alerted everybody of the impending danger. We began to hear about the tornados on the radio. Normally, we would have waited for the siren, but as I looked out of my window and saw the menacing dark clouds, I ordered everyone in the trailer to rush to the evacuation site. It was almost too late. "Gas cylinders came flying toward us as we made a sprint for the Utility building. Everyone made it to shelter without injury. Heavy rain and golf ball-sized hail hammered the building. The storm passed and during the calm weathermen announced that even more powerful storms were expected in the afternoon. The schools announced that they would dismiss early. It was then that we decided to send as many people home as we could to take care of their families as well as reduce the number of people on site. "It was 4:15pm when the next big twister came our way after decimating three communities about five miles away. The tornado passed just northwest of the BP facility, about a mile from us, and badly damaged several companies across the road - literally demolishing everything in its path, including the 500KV power lines that supply much of the power to northern Alabama. Power failed immediately and we were left huddled inside the process building next to the break room in the dark. We held each other and prayed. "It was at this point that we realized that nothing could be done to deal with the forces of nature. In total darkness, everyone had to sit for the next two hours as the storm whooped and whined outside relentlessly. Just after 7:00pm the weather subsided and it was safe for us to go outside. Portable generators were arranged to try and drain the polymer in the process lines but all the lines in the plant had frozen. In the early morning hours we realized this was going to be a lengthy and complex process. We decided to call everything off and wait for the resumption of power. The shift crew did an excellent job of making sure everybody was safe. "The next day we made calls to the homes of all our employees to find out if they were okay. Fortunately, all employees and their immediate families were safe although some had lost some of their extended family members. Around 252 people died in Alabama during those storms when 21 tornados hit the state. Five employees suffered extensive damage to their homes, though there was no appreciable damage to AlphaPet. "Frantically, we struggled to get generators on site to hasten the plant's restart process. It was quite a scramble to locate large enough generators but our team did a great job in locating the type we needed. Our colleagues over at Starpet in North Carolina pitched in, to our eternal gratitude. Power was restored after a week and the start up activities commenced. "All around Alabama it was like living in the Stone Age once again. No power in over 650,000 homes, no gasoline, no shops, no communications - yes, no internet, TV or phones - and limited water supply. Food in the refrigerator started spoiling. Everyone started having cook-outs in the evenings to use it all up. "Finally, power in our homes was restored after about 5 days. As a humanitarian effort we have extended some financial support to employees who suffered damage to their homes and some support to the other employees who faced particular hardship. Food was arranged at the plant for the workers who were helping to restore things back to normal. Our PET CEO, Mr. Dilip Kumar Agarwal, flew in to speak with the shift crew on Sunday May 8 and offer some comfort. His sincere empathy was felt by everyone. The BP Chemicals site next to us also offered excellent support throughout and we thank them for this gesture."
How AlphaPet dealt with the Ala. tornadoes
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