Business

Charlotte-area businesses respond to South Carolina floods

Several cars are submerged in the flood throughout Georgetown, S.C. on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Janet Blackmon Morgan jblackmon@thesunnews.com
Several cars are submerged in the flood throughout Georgetown, S.C. on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Janet Blackmon Morgan jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Duke Energy has responded to hundreds of thousands of power outages, Lowe’s is ramping up shipments of flood-related home products, and trucking firms adjusted their schedules to get around closed roadways Monday, as Charlotte-area companies responded to historic floods across South Carolina.

Companies are still scrambling to assess the full effect of the damage and said accessibility remains a top concern. Many store locations were forced to temporarily close.

Wells Fargo, which operates its biggest employee hub in Charlotte, closed 40 branches in the Carolinas, said spokesman Josh Dunn. Charlotte-based Bank of America closed 50 branches across the Carolinas Monday. A Lowe’s store in Columbia flooded and was closed Monday.

Trucking companies said they weren’t hit as hard as they feared. Although many smaller roads were closed because of flooding or structural damage, major arteries were open, with the exception of part of Interstate 95 in South Carolina.

Norfolk Southern’s rail line to and from the port of Charleston was damaged and shut down Monday. The company said it expected the rail line, a major link to and from Charleston, to remain closed through Friday. Norfolk Southern operates a major rail-to-truck cargo yard in Charlotte, and much of the container traffic comes from Charleston.

Here’s a look at how several major business sectors responded Monday to the floods:

Lowe’s

Experts say natural disasters can be a boon to home improvement retailers, who often see a boost in sales immediately afterward.

Mooresville-based Lowe’s Cos. says it’s “assessing the situation” to determine which products to send and where. The retailer operates two command centers in Wilkesboro and Mooresville that were staffed for the storm. After a natural disaster, engineers and construction teams check the safety of affected Lowe’s facilities, and logistics teams assess which products are in demand and where need is greatest.

Bill Edwards, Lowe’s senior vice president of store operations for the southern region, said Lowe’s sent items such as bottled water, sump pumps, sandbags and generators to its stores before the storm hit. Now, the company is focusing on cleanup products such as mops and repair items such as drywall replacements and insulation.

“We’re still in the very early stages of this, trying to identify what the greatest need is by each market. We feel it’s our greatest responsibility to be there for our communities, our customers and our employees,” Edwards said.

All Lowe’s stores throughout South Carolina operated as normal Monday except for one in Columbia on Two Notch Road, where a nearby creek overflowed and flooded the store with water and mud, Lowe’s spokeswoman Karen Cobb said. The company is in the process of determining whether to extend hours and employee headcount at certain stores.

The retailer is giving $500,000 to the American Red Cross to help flood victims across the devastated areas. The company also donates plastic tarps to cover roofs and tote bags for storing important documents.

Duke Energy

Charlotte-based Duke Energy restored more than 500,000 outages over the weekend in South Carolina. As of midday Monday, 5,485 customers were still without power, said Ryan Mosier, a Duke Energy spokesman. The utility serves a total of 730,000 South Carolina customers.

Though Duke has brought in helicopters and off-road vehicles, continued rain and street flooding has made repairs difficult, Mosier said.

Given the ongoing need, the utility company may have to shift some of its North Carolina resources and personnel further South, which is part of “normal operations,” Mosier said.

Logistics companies

Despite flooding that closed hundreds of roads and bridges throughout South Carolina, trucking companies were cautiously optimistic Monday.

“We’re in better shape than I thought we would be,” said Lee Montgomery, terminal manager for Atlantic Trucking Co. in Charlotte. “We kind of dodged a bullet ... I was expecting the worst.”

Major roads, such as Interstate 77 and Interstate 26, were open Monday. After initially holding trucks back in anticipation of problems, T.J. Hayes, vice president of Charlotte-based trucking firm FSI, got word Monday that the port of Charleston was operational.

“We made a decision yesterday to pull the drivers going to those areas,” he said. “We ended up sending a bunch of guys down to Charleston.”

A bigger problem than the main roads was the side roads. Montgomery and Hayes both said some of their drivers in South Carolina had trouble getting to work. And some businesses that were expecting deliveries instead had several feet of water in their parking lots.

Old Dominion Freight Lines, based in Thomasville, was reporting Monday that its Columbia service area was closed because of flooding, while Florence, S.C., was operating with major delays. Wilmington and Charleston were both operating with moderate delays.

Schneider National, which operates a trucking hub in Charlotte, was coping with the road closures by rescheduling delivery times and routes.

“There are a significant number of road closures in the state of South Carolina and Eastern North Carolina due to flooding which has caused driver re-routes and changes to pickup and delivery arrangements,” said spokeswoman Janet Bonkowski.

Norfolk Southern operates a major rail freight yard at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The company’s rail line to Charleston was damaged and inoperable Monday, and the company was working to route shipments around the area.

“We are handling business as normal through the (Charlotte) terminal except for traffic on the rail line out of Charleston,” said Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

  Comments