In the aftermath of a tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo., businesses and their employees alike are coming to terms with rebuilding homes and re-creating normal lives, even as they look at disaster plans for the future.
Plastics firms in the southwestern Missouri community escaped damage in the May 22 storm, and reported that none of their employees were among the 138 killed, but many still lost nearly everything.
“We have heard that several employees have lost their homes,” said Ron Cook, communications director at Tamko Building Products Inc., which employs 800 in the Joplin area. “It is a very somber mood here in the office and in the city.”
During a June 1 meeting with business leaders, Gov. Jay Nixon said an estimated 6,900 homes were “unlivable” in the town of 45,000. More than 17,000 insurance claims had been filed, ranging from complete loss of structures to missing shingles.
A few employees at Able Manufacturing & Assembly LLC have been unable to return to work because they could not find housing, said Susan Adams, human resources director for the composite molding and metal fabricating company. Even more, though, have found space with family or friends, or have taken in family and friends.
“People are having four and five people living with them, and of course that adds a lot of needs for things like bathroom tissue and paper towels,” she said.
Able teamed up with Community Support Services of Southwest Missouri — a nonprofit group that works with the disabled — and opened an empty warehouse to store donated goods. Able's training room was turned into a distribution center.
Community Support Services has the know-how to distribute goods, but lost its offices in the tornado, Adams said. Able, meanwhile, received overwhelming support from customers and vendors anxious to help out, but who lacked specialty information on distribution.
“One of our vendors was here last Friday with a trailer and truck and check,” she said. “That outpouring has just been absolutely overwhelming from the plastics industry and the metal industry and all of the business community.”
Able and Community Support Services first opened distribution of relief items to employees and clients, but were able to expand it to anyone in need thanks to the amount of support coming in, Adams said.
Packaging maker Bemis Co. Inc. of Neenah, Wis., has a plant on the north side of Joplin that employs 126. Spokeswoman Kristine Pavletich said in a May 23 telephone interview that the facility was spared the storm's wrath.
“We're extremely grateful that none of our employees were hurt, and we're operating [at the plant]. But it's definitely a devastating tragedy and we are working with our employees and the community to offer relief and support in whatever way we can,” she said.
Five Bemis employees' homes were damaged by the tornado. “We are working with them to provide all necessities that they might need,” she said.
Bemis Co. Foundation is contributing $25,000 to the American Red Cross for Joplin's recovery effort, Pavletich said May 27, and will double-match employee donations. Bemis acquired its Joplin plant as part of its March 2010 acquisition of Alcan Packaging Food Americas.
It also has been a tough season beyond Joplin.
Though Tamko was spared damage at its corporate office and two plants in Joplin, as well as a composite decking plant in nearby Lamar, Mo., its asphalt shingle factory was damaged in the April 27 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Tuscaloosa General Manager Tom Deloughery was able to move workers to safety even as the tornado destroyed a warehouse, raw-material storage area and portions of the production buildings, loading docks and offices.
Some of the plant's promotional items were found 45 miles away. It restarted production there May 25.
“It's a testament to the quality of our employees and the people of Tuscaloosa,” said President and CEO David Humphreys in a June 1 press release.
Able resumed production May 25 at 80 percent capacity and has been able to ramp up from there. It also is hiring 10 employees.
“It's an interesting dynamic we didn't anticipate,” Adams said. “Some of our folks are leaving for construction jobs.”
The storm has driven home the need to make sure employees' contact information is up to date, she said. In the wake of the storm many land lines and cell phone towers were down.
Able took advantage of an emergency toll-free number — linked to an out-of-state answering service — and posted updates regularly for employees who could call in.
“This kind of a natural disaster is above and beyond anything we had planned for,” Adams said.
Manufacturers throughout Joplin are also talking now about how they can support each other in future emergencies, she said.
Plastics News staff reporter Dan Hockensmith also contributed to this report.