Plastics businesses in the South are coming back to full production after Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Continental U.S. since 1992, slammed into Florida on Oct. 10 and began cutting across parts of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.
In Crestview, Fla., in the Florida Panhandle, Robert Sires, owner of American Elite Molding, which manufactures nylon cable ties and accessories, had stocked the one-story brick facility with water, bread, peanut butter, gasoline vouchers and other supplies in case some or all of the 150 employees wanted to take shelter there.
"We held our breath and prepared," Sires said.
Michael came on shore about 130 miles east, at Mexico Beach, Fla., which was swamped by a storm surge and 155 mph winds.
At AEM, production continued through the day. Many employees came to work specifically "because our building is so safe," Sires added. "If there was any evacuation, we would have people leave. But that didn't happen. We didn't even lose power. We were able to work through everything, but an hour or so away it is a mess."
Some employees who live east of the injection molding operation had wind and debris damage at their homes, Sires said.
"We told people we're going to be open but if you don't feel you can come in, it won't be held against you. I'd say 95 percent of our people still came in," Sires said.
AEM was not alone in preparing for the storm.
Formtech Enterprises Inc. halted production until Oct. 15 at its facility in Athens, Ga., where state routes are blocked by fallen trees and debris in more than 100 locations.
Plastic pipe producer JM Eagle had also undergone a shutdown at its Adel, Ga., on Oct. 10, but resumed production the next day.
"Our plant was east of the brunt of the storm," JM Eagle spokesman Neal Gordon said. "We weren't hit badly and operations are rapidly getting back up. As we understand, all of our people are safe."
The shutdown was precautionary to protect people, equipment and customers' merchandise, added Marcus Min, JM Eagles's marketing director.
Hurricane Michael landed as a Category 4 storm, just shy of Category 5 strength, which is 157 mph winds or more. The hurricane devastated Panama City, Fla., blowing out windows and walls, including Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart, where 200 patients were evacuated.
By the next morning, the storm headed toward Columbia, S.C., with 50 mph winds, leaving more than 1 million utility customers without power in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. It was expected to move across North Carolina and Virginia by early Oct. 12.
In Florida and other sites closer to the Gulf of Mexico, processors expect downed trees to raise shipping issues.
"The problem now is transportation issues, especially Interstate 10, a big trucking corridor to Alabama," Sires said.
Fortunately for AEM, a shipment of nylon resin arrived Oct. 11 from Ascend Performance Materials in Pensacola, Fla.
"We won't have problems staying open but let's see in the next couple of days how the LTL [less than load] carriers and UPS make it with deliveries and if we can send things out," Sires said.
Two deaths, in Greensboro, Fla., and Seminole County, Ga., are being blamed on the storm.
The remnants of Hurricane Michael hit the Carolinas with heavy rain and tornado threats on Oct. 11, less than a month after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Sept. 14, bringing massive flooding to the region.