Hurricane Irene sways local shipping

Hurricane Irene sways local shipping

August 27th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Workers put plywood over windows at the Pilot House restaurant near Washington Mall in Cape May, N.J., Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, as the town prepares for Hurricane Irene.

Photo by (AP Photo by Mel Evans)

As cities up and down the east coast prepared for Hurricane Irene, Chattanooga's biggest transport companies shifted hundreds of trucks to safety to weather the natural disaster.

Covenant Transport pulled back between 50 and 75 trucks while U.S. Xpress towed 150 of its trailers to safety Friday. The storm started affecting North Carolina on Friday and is expected to travel all the way up to New England.

"Even if they don't have freight, we're going to move them westward," Andy Vanzant, vice president of operations for Covenant, said Friday. "Right now, it's really all just preparatory."

Extreme weather such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados shake up the trucking industry several times a year, and the Chattanooga-based shippers are prepared for the potential damage.

The area won't see any dramatic consequences of Hurricane Irene, according to WRCB meteorologist Paul Barys.

"We're going to get nothing around here. Absolutely zip," he said. "You're not going to get anything different for a while."

That could mean an all-time record-setting dry month for Chattanooga. If the Scenic City continues to be dry and hot, August 2011's 0.01 inches of rainfall so far will trump the 0.04-inch September 1919 record.

But the hurricane has already damaged other areas up the coast, ultimately affecting local businesses such as Covenant.

"We lose some utilization, but I would say we end up making it up," Vanzant said. "Disasters are usually good for trucking. A lot of repair, reconstruction goods, a lot of water, just all that kind of fix-the-damage-type stuff that has to move has to get there."

U.S. Xpress incurs a small cost in such storms. The company doesn't pick up disaster relief shipping and has to send in extra trucks to haul its trailers to safety.

"The strategy is to identify where that safe pace is going to be, because it can vary," said Greg Thompson, a spokesman for U.S. Xpress. "It's a lot cheaper to move the equipment out of a potentially affected area. That's a lot cheaper than possibly having to repair or replace it."

Collegedale-based food distributor McKee Foods Corp. will see a bit of a slowdown because of the winds and rains. The Little Debbie makers delayed Saturday deliveries to Sunday on New York- and New Jersey-bound loads.

McKee spokesman Mike Gloekler said the company plans to stay in touch with customers to see if the company needs to divert delivery to other locations in case the use of some warehouses is lost.

"It's just kind of a wait and see," he said.

Regardless of how businesses fare, all affected said safety is a top priority.

"You look at safety first. You look at the safety of the people. You work with your customers," Thompson said. "You just try to be as helpful and responsible as you can be."

Mike Pare contributed to this report.

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