(From the Nov. 12, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News.
AKRON—The impact of Hurricane Sandy's relentless and destructive march through the Northeast on rubber industry firms was as varied as the 90 mph winds that drove the storm inland.
No company reported extensive damage to its facilities, although virtually all said production was halted from one to several days. Power had not been restored to hundreds of homes and some businesses a week after Sandy came ashore.
“Take all the hurricanes we've had in the past, combine them and they can't match this one,” Daniel L. Hertz Jr., president of Seals Eastern Inc., said of the monster storm that killed an estimated 110, destroyed countless homes and other property, triggered evacuations across the East Coast, and left thousands in the dark and cold for several days.
The high winds were devastating, said John Mathey, president and CEO of Wayne, N.J.-headquartered Passaic Rubber Co., a manufacturer of a wide assortment of goods, including endless belting and rubber rollers.
The company, located near the Passaic River, lost power and part of its roof. But it experienced no other severe problems, such as massive flooding, which Mathey had anticipated.
The loss of electricity forced him to close the operation Oct. 30 and 31.
“I'm pleased with the way we came out of it,” he said. “We had some people who worked a full shift on Monday (Oct. 29) before the power went out” and Passaic fell off the grid. “That was a gamble, but it paid off.”
Wayne was hit with only a few inches of rain, Mathey said, but the high winds wreaked havoc on the region.
Power wasn't restored until the following Thursday, he said.
Homes in the area didn't fare as well, said Jeff Leach, chairman and chief operating officer of Passaic.
“My neighborhood looks like a war zone,” he said Nov. 7. “We lost three trees and we've been told that we won't have our electricity back until sometime during the week of Nov. 12. On top of that, we expect another storm to arrive, this one with snow, in the next few days.”
Loss of production
Red Bank, N.J.-headquartered Seals Eastern emerged from the storm in relatively good shape, looking for ways to make up for lost production time.
The custom seals, O-rings and gaskets maker lost power for several days and didn't regain it until the evening of Nov. 4.
Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, was “just as bad as the news media is reporting,” Hertz said. The Jersey shore was hammered by constant 30- to 40-foot waves, he said, which caused extensive damage.
On the home front, Hertz's residence lost all power, and as of Nov. 5 the Seals Eastern president expected it to be down for at least another week.
Seals Eastern has 150 employees who lost a week's wages because of the storm and lack of electricity, Hertz said. “We're helping them as much as we can, and in the end I assure you they won't lose anything.”
La Favorite Industries Inc., based in Paterson, N.J., came out of the storm practically unscathed.
Like most companies in New Jersey, the wind knocked out its electricity late Monday and the maker of expansion joints and other rubber products had to halt production for three days.
It could have been much worse. Hurricane Irene struck a year ago and four feet of water engulfed the firm's factory, forcing it to cut back on production for an extended period of time, according to Vice President Eric Hague.
“We had a lot of our machinery go out at that time,” Hague said. It took nearly a year to return to normal, and “Irene cost us a fortune to clean up à but we did it on our own with no help from anyone.”
Hague anticipated recovery in the Paterson area will take a long time because falling trees and heavy winds knocked out power to businesses and homes throughout the region.
Sitting in the heart of New York City, on Lexington Ave., officials at the offices of Showa Denko America Inc. didn't have to worry about losing valuable production time; its products are made in Japan. Its office went two days without power.
Some employees at the U.S. arm of chloroprene rubber maker Showa Denko K.K. live in New Jersey and couldn't make it to work across flooded New York. “On Wednesday, we had four people at the office, and 10 people were able to get in on Thursday,” said Karolina Mera, sales and marketing assistant manager.
“I had no electricity at home or work and it took more than two hours just to get here,” she said. “Fortunately, we can still do business.”
Located two blocks from the ocean, Monmouth Rubber & Plastics Corp., a manufacturer of closed cell sponge rubber and plastic foam, suffered no damage to its plant because the company sits on high ground in Long Beach, N.J., said John M. Bonforte Jr., who heads up sales and marketing.
The firm mainly had problems with the wind and the loss of power. Most importantly, he said, “everyone within our organization is safe and sound.”
Bonforte and Passaic's Mathey both said that gaining access to gasoline proved to be a difficult problem not only throughout the storm but in the days that followed. “There's a real gas shortage here,” Mathey said. “Sometimes if you get to the station at 10, you might get out with containers of gas by noon à if the station doesn't run out first.
“There are gas lines everywhere. In some places they are only filling jugs, they aren't filling cars.”
Bonforte agreed, and said he spotted about 200 cars waiting in lines at some gas stations.
Big, small problems
Numerous other rubber goods producers or suppliers housed in the region faced similar difficulties while others had minor problems.
— Trenton, N.J.-headquartered Home Rubber Co. had some windows blown out of its factory and lost electricity from the afternoon of Oct. 29 through Oct. 31, which halted production, according to Rich Balka, owner and president of the mechanical and industrial rubber product maker. The plant returned to operation Nov. 1.
“Everyone made it through fine but a few (employees) are still without power at home,” he said several days after the storm. Balka figured Home Rubber would catch up on orders by Nov. 9.
— Coim USA Inc. in West Deptford, N.J., merely had a brief power outage “that had no consequences,” President Lucio Siano said. “We have definitely been blessed.”
— Ames Rubber Co. in Hamburg, N.J., weathered Hurricane Sandy very well, President and CEO Charles A. Roberts said. Its two plants in the region escaped with only a few minor leaks. Ames shut down as of the afternoon shift on Monday, Oct. 29, as a precautionary measure, but reopened with the early shift at 4 a.m., Oct. 31.
Some Ames workers hadn't been able to return to work as of Nov. 1, Roberts said. “We were about 70-percent staffed as of yesterday (Oct. 31), and I would guess about 85- to 90-percent staffed today,” he said.
— Richard Marcus, president and chief operating officer of American Biltrite Inc. in Wellesley Hills, Mass., said his company also came through Sandy unscathed. “We have two plants, in Lowell, Mass., and Moorestown, N.J. We shut them down Monday night and reopened them Wednesday morning, more for employee safety and commuting issues than anything else, and also because the governors of both states asked us to. We lost a little production, but that was it.”
— Salem, N.H.-based Gates Mectrol experienced high winds and limited damage caused by fallen trees onto power lines, according to Jenny Dakos, sales administration manager. The urethane timing belt maker closed its facility Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. and canceled its second and third shifts to ensure its employees had time to get home before the hurricane touched land, she said. The facility was back in operation the next day at 7 a.m.
— GAF Materials Corp., a producer of roofing shingles and materials in Wayne, also didn't sustain any physical damage, a spokeswoman said. “We did have power out in some buildings, but with generators and remote arrangements, we were able to remain open and operational.”
— G.W. Plastics Inc. in Bethel, Vt., lucked out, said Timothy P. Reis, vice president of health care business development. “We are on the east side of the Green Mountains which spared us the high winds and heavy rain.”
— A spokesman for Riverhead, N.Y.-based Adchem Corp. said the company lost its power Monday and Tuesday of the storm but returned to work Wednesday. “We're still behind in getting our trucks to the plant,” he said. “It's a war zone in the city (New York).”
— Henry L. Ritell, president and CEO of Rit-Chem Co. Inc. in Thornwood, N.Y., said the firm was closed for two days—Oct. 30 and 31—but its facility held up well. “We're the only one around here with this energy carrier,” he said, which worked out well for the firm.