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First-shift workers clean the loading dock area where 53-foot semi trailers were toppled by high winds early Friday morning at Jet Polymer Recycling in Fort Payne, Ala.
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Four 53-foot semi trailers, toppled by high winds of a tornadic storm, lay on the lawn early Friday morning outside the Jet Polymer Recycling business in Fort Payne, Ala.
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A Yates wrecker serviceman assesses two 53-foot trailers toppled by high winds early Friday morning at Jet Polymer Recycling in Fort Payne, Ala.

FORT PAYNE, Ala. - At least Jet Polymer Recycling can process the metal from its damaged semi trailers and HVAC unit right on site.

"We're a recycling plant, which is great," said Stacie Dierks, sales and marketing manager at Jet Polymer. "Because we'll take all this scrap and do something with it anyway."

Jet Polymer was struck early Friday morning by a tornado that hit Fort Payne. It was the town's only major industry to sustain damage, though a handful of residences nearby were damaged and a couple destroyed.

Dierks said two of Jet Polymer's semi trailers, fortunately empty, were thrown around during the fray, one winding up partly on the roof of the building and then left there, hanging off. The other landed in the front lawn. Both were destroyed. Several others were damaged.

Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser said it looked like winds had "tossed them around like they were tin cans."

"It had to have been an awfully strong wind to pick them up," said Mike Mowery, vice president of Chattanooga Trailer, on Friday.

Empty semi trailers typically weigh around 14,000 pounds. That's roughly the combined weight of three average sedans.

Dierks said insurance claims adjusters were assessing the damage Friday. Mowery said new trailers run around $28,000, and generally they depreciate about $1,000 per year in value.

Costs could easily add up, as Jet Polymer also sustained infrastructure damage, losing an air unit and taking roof and water damage to offices.

Dierks said storm winds lifted a rooftop HVAC unit from Jet Polymer's building and carried it into a nearby tree, where employees found it later in the morning.

Clayton Cornell, president of Reliable Heating and Air, said some rooftop units weigh two or three tons.

"Even if it's a smaller five or 10-ton unit, you're looking at 1,000 pounds," he said.

Rooftop unit prices are also generally steep. They can range between a few thousand dollars up to tens of thousands, depending on size, said Cornell.

Only a handful of Jet Polymer employees were at work when the tornado hit. They sought refuge in a storm shelter that was built into the facility -- formerly a Sara Lee Corp. manufacturing site -- before Jet Polymer moved in two years ago.

None was in the damaged office area, which will need roof and water damage repairs.

The storm did not stop Jet Polymer from going into full production on Friday. The company's pick-up and delivery drivers were delayed a few hours as they set out to collect and distribute material around the Southeast, but Dierks said that will likely be the biggest inconvenience customers feel.

"With any business, you're going to have things that come up," she said. "And you just have to deal with it, that's part of being in business."

Even when it means coming in at 5 a.m. to clean up after a tornado.

"As much as we can say 'Business as usual today' aside from the clean up, we are still up and running as much as we can be," Dierks said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.