Dan Martino, the senior director of Texas administration for Inteplast Group, peeked outside every hour on the hour as Hurricane Harvey hammered southeastern Texas on Aug. 25, 2017.
He was hunkered down at his home, which had no electricity, with some colleagues, including security team manager Henry Totman, as well as a family that lived in a mobile home.
Outside, the first major hurricane to make landfall since 2005 meandered around the Gulf Coast, intensifying to a Category 4 with winds up to 130 mph and torrential rain.
"We watched the wind whipping my oak trees like a child lapping up spaghetti," Martino told Plastics News. "We drove to the [plant] site as soon as the winds were manageable."
Leaving about 10 a.m., Martino and Totman saw damage everywhere: trees toppled over, power lines strewn about, buildings left roofless, flooded fields and battered crops.
"The small towns that normally have activity looked like ghost towns. No one had ventured out yet," Martino said of the 30-mile drive to Inteplast's flagship plant in Lolita near the Gulf of Mexico.
The 525-acre site employs about 2,300 people who produce a variety of stretch film, cross-laminated film, garment bags, trash can liners and plastic sheeting, including a thick hurricane board made of polypropylene used to cover windows. Workers had spent some intense hours bracing the seven buildings for Hurricane Harvey, and the two were about to see the aftermath.
"It was eerie. No lights on, no cars, no security guards. We began our inspection," Martino said.
To his surprise, the Lolita site fared well, except for one building, which sustained roof damage above an electrical distribution system that either needed custom-ordered spare parts or some innovative substitutes. There was no other major damage to buildings or infrastructure.
After a few hours of inspections, Martino and Totman created a report of their findings and recovery mode was activated. While some of the repairs took as long as two months to complete, most of the site came back on line four days after Harvey hit and production resumed five days later.
"Great planning efforts by production, shipping and the transportation team made it possible to commence shipping on the second day post-storm," Martino added.
Then, donations of supplies and money poured in for employees suffering losses at home. Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion of damage, second only to Katrina as the costliest tropical storm in the U.S. At one point, 30,000 people were displaced.
"We documented more than 112 employees whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and there are likely more damaged that we didn't learn about," said Brenda Wilson, senior director of human resources and communications.
Affiliated Inteplast plants in North America sent canned goods, diapers, cleaning supplies, nonperishable food and $50,000 in donations that the company matched.
"Because school had just started, and then subsequently many schools were damaged, school supplies were needed. Our colleagues made this a priority as well," Wilson said.
Founded in 1991 and based in Livingston, N.J., Inteplast Group has about 7,000 employees at more than 50 facilities manufacturing products for the health care, food service, packaging, building, grocery, retail, sanitation, industrial and graphic arts markets.
Looking back a year, Inteplast storm veterans credit their restoration of operations in four to five days to "effective procedures" for everything from evacuating the site to helping employees return to work. Here's what they have learned over time from the plant floor to administration.