Snow shuts many area operations

Snow shuts many area operations

January 11th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Businesstopstory

Flight crew members trudge across the snow early Monday morning at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport to board a plane early Monday as a severe winter storm pounded the eastern United States.

Business across the Chattanooga area ground to a halt Monday as most major companies advised employees to stay home, though a few with round-the-clock operations took extraordinary steps to maintain staffing levels.

More businesses were shut down because of snow than at any time since the snowstorm of 1993, when the entire city ground to a halt under a load of ice and 18.5 inches of snow, officials said.

Chattanooga-based Unum, along with BlueCross BlueShield and Cigna, told employees not to come in, keeping thousands of cars off the snow-covered interstates and secondary streets.

"We're closed down statewide," said BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Thompson-Danielson, noting that customers still could visit doctors or go to the emergency room without an interruption in service.

Thompson-Danielson said late Monday afternoon that the company will open offices today at 10 a.m., later than normal.

Cigna was closed Monday, spokeswoman Judy Hartling said, though no decision had been made regarding being open today, as of press time.

"That will depend on the weather," she said.

Mary Fortune, a Unum spokeswoman, said she and "a lot of our employees who work at home were able to perform tasks via e-mail and Intranet links in spite of the snow." This was the first time the insurer had stayed closed completely on a business day since 1993, she said.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offered a $59 inclement weather rate to help workers who were unable to return to their homes, compared to a usual rate of $139.99.

AIRCRAFT COME, GO

Meanwhile, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport remained open all day, as snowplows trekked back and forth over the runways and taxiways beginning at 1 a.m. Monday, according to spokeswoman Christina Siebold.

Most flights were delayed, and thousands across the Southeast were canceled, but some remained on track, she said.

"Several flights have come and gone," Siebold said. "General aviation and flights to Atlanta and Charlotte are coming and going."

She said the airport would "remain open, as long as we keep everything clear," though she advised customers to check with their airline to make other plans if possible.

John Nayler, who worked as chief of the control tower in 1993, said the airport had a history of remaining open in all types of bad weather.

"It became something of an emergency operations center back then, where rescue helicopters could fly in and out to help people," Nayler said, though officials say this year's storm is significantly less fierce.

While the airport runways remained navigable, many roads and parking lots in downtown Chattanooga were impassable as the afternoon wore on, despite the appearance of numerous salt trucks and snow plows.

RETAIL STORES

Lowe's, Home Depot and Ace Hardware locations in the area remained open, trying to meet the needs of customers coping with the weather.

Lowe's and Home Depot locations on Gunbarrel Road, however, were out of ice melting salt, snow shovels and sleds. But Ace Hardware Southside manager Chris Scutella said he still had "pallets and pallets" of ice-melting salt available.

All home improvement stores said they planned to be open today during normal business hours, though none were sure when additional shipments of snow shovels, salt and sleds would arrive.

An audio recording told callers to Hamilton Place mall that the complex was still open, but phone calls to several stores in the mall went unanswered.

Bradley Square Mall in Cleveland remained closed Monday.

Ann Andrews, a buyer for Jax Liquors on Market Street, said the store was open for business, and Alison Matera at Riverside Wine and Spirits said she planned to stay open during regular business hours "unless it gets really hairy."

TRUCKING INDUSTRY

U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport continued normal operations, spokesmen said, though not without some difficulty.

U.S. Xpress sent a specially equipped Chevrolet Suburban to bring in key employees to its 24-hour operations center, where workers communicated to truckers which roads were safe and which were impassable, according to spokesman Greg Thompson.

"The weather makes it a little more challenging, but it's something we're accustomed to as a nationwide operation - and we work and adjust," Thompson said.

He said that while truckers are advised whether an area has ice or snow challenges, truck drivers themselves must decide if it is safe to continue.

"For safety purposes, we leave it up to them," Thompson said. "If they don't feel safe, we advise them to get off the road."

Covenant's Mark Pare reported that about 300 trucks across the South were shut down because of the weather. "That number could climb tonight and tomorrow as road conditions worsen due to the ice expected tonight," he said.

MANUFACTURING

Manufacturers with large numbers of employees, like Athens, Tenn.-based Denso Manufacturing and Dalton-based Shaw Industries were closed for business, while more automated operations such as BASF on Amnicola Highway continued as normal, representatives said.

"The third shift is shut down," said Katrina Hall, general manager in the quality engineering division at Denso. "We just can't get anybody in there, aside from some emergency personnel."

Robert Gagliano, site manager for BASF in Chattanooga, said things were "running normally," and though some employees were working longer hours as a result of the storm, there had been no interruptions in production.

Shaw Industries manufacturing and distribution operations were shut down "and will remain shut down until second shift on Tuesday," said Paul Richard, vice president of human resources.

However, telecommunications infrastructure allowed much of the company's administrative work to continue uninterrupted, the company ordering placement and tracking infrastructure.

Richard said that administrative associations "can return to work after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, if they feel that it is safe to do so."