LAKE CHARLES, La.—For the most part, Hurricane Laura spared the rubber industry located along the Gulf Coast despite being one of strongest storms to make landfall in U.S. history.
The hurricane registered as a Category 4 storm when it reached land near Cameron, La., on Aug. 27.
"From a rubber standpoint, it could have been a lot worse," said Bill Hyde, executive director of olefins and elastomers at IHS Markit. "I think it's fair to say the industry, overall, dodged a bullet."
A Firestone polymers plant in Lake Charles did sustain damage, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
"They sustained some damage," Hyde said. "As I understand, none of the process equipment was damaged."
He expects it could be several weeks before the plant resumes operations, but nothing has been determined.
Other rubber sites in the region were knocked offline, mainly due to infrastructure problems and not because of damage to those facilities, Hyde said in a phone interview.
"The others, they are experiencing some power issues," he said. "They had small impacts. I heard them described as superficial."
Initial storm forecasts had called for Hurricane Laura to make landfall farther west around Beaumont and Houston, Texas. If that had been the case, the damage to the rubber industry would have been much greater, he said.
Lion Elastomers, which has plants in Orange and Port Neches, Texas, completed an initial inspection of those locations, the company said Sept. 1.
"The facilities appear to have sustained only minor damage and are finishing up all known repairs. Our critical path remains the restoration of power feeding our manufacturing sites," Lion said.
"We now anticipate the restart of our Port Neches facility roughly two weeks after Hurricane Laura's impact to that site, and the restart of our Orange facility within three weeks of Hurricane Laura's impact to that site," the company said. "These are the best timelines we have at this moment based off the current feedback on power availability. With respect to scheduled shipments, all our warehouses are back in operation, but (we) do expect some travel delays due to the regional status post-Laura."
Arlanxeo Holding B.V., the world's largest producer of synthetic rubber, issued a statement following Laura's landfall about 25 miles east of the company's location in Orange.
"There is no apparent sign of flooding on the site, however there is damage to some structures and office buildings," Arlanxeo said. "The site is mobilizing recovery team members and additional resources accordingly while members of our Security Team have the site secured. With safety as a top priority, we evacuated the site the afternoon of Aug. 25. Therefore, no employees were on the premises when the hurricane made landfall."
Hyde also said the hurricane had little impact on the production of monomers used in synthetic rubber production.
"From a feedstock perspective, a significant amount of the U.S. ethylene capacity was shut down, but outside of the Lake Charles area they are either back up, or in the process. Butadiene supply cuts were probably smaller than the demand that went off line, so that won't be an issue for restarting rubber plants either. Similar story for styrene," he said in an email.
Hurricane Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, making it a Category 4 storm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Only Category 5 hurricanes, with winds of at least 156 miles per hour, are stronger.
The hurricane lost steam once it made landfall, but still was responsible for significant damage in Louisiana, including Lake Charles where homes were torn apart, electricity service was knocked out and water plants were damaged.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter raised concerns that his community soon will be forgotten amid all the crises taking place these days.
"It is a big fear that America will forget what's happening right here and what we are going to go through over the next weeks and months," he said on National Public Radio.