Forklift industry feels impact of hurricanes

News Story
- 25 Sep 2008 ( #379 ) - United States
5 min read
Members of the Louisiana National Guard set up a road block in the upper 9th Ward of New Orleans as water in the Industrial Canal starts to overtop the levees.<br />U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael L. Owens
Members of the Louisiana National Guard set up a road block in the upper 9th Ward of New Orleans as water in the Industrial Canal starts to overtop the levees.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael L. Owens
Hurricane Ike devastated buildings-levelling at least one Galveston, Texas forklift wholesaler-and destroyed utility infrastructure along the coast and through the central US.

The storm with high winds and torrential downpours moved through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico and made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at Galveston at 2:10 am local time on 13 September.

The Houston manufacturing plant of Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc (MCFA) lost electrical service and discontinued most equipment production and operations in the week following Hurricane Ike's arrival, but the facility did not have physical damage. Houston is about 50 miles (80km) inland from Galveston.

MCFA employs about 900, occupies nearly 690,000 square feet (62,100sm) of office and production space on a 42-acre site and manufactures forklifts under the brands of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI) and Caterpillar Industrial Inc (CII).

The factory-owned dealership, Mitsubishi Forklift Trucks of Houston, lost access to electricity but was back in full operation this week, according to representative Kyle Yates.

Forklift Service Co in Houston also went for more than a week without power. "We just got the lights on last night (22 September)," says Mark Coy. "We had the doors open, but the lights were out." Forklift Service provides maintenance and other services for forklifts, has a parts inventory and also buys, sells, rents and leases equipment.

Coy told News about a call that got through to him: "The lady out of Galveston said she had a wholesale place buying and selling used forklifts, and the building was demolished," he recalls. She moved to an office in Dallas on 19 September, and "she was supposed to email (business-related) papers" to Forklift Service on 23 September. The transmission never occurred, and further details were unavailable.

After the hurricane, Texas Forklift Service in Houston experienced heavy demand for forklift rental units and needed to provide service without electrical power. The solution: utilise old-fashioned paper-and-pen recordkeeping.

"We had to shut down on September 12," says Benny Lee, Texas Forklift service manager. "We just got the lights on this week."
Damage was minimal. "Just gutters," Lee notes. "Nothing major."

Texas Forklift started in 1978, employs 17 and, in addition to rentals and service, has served as a Yang forklift dealer for 30 years and an Artisan forklift dealer for 10 years.

Several dealerships of Toyota Material Handling Inc (TMHU) in Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio were affected by hurricanes including Ike and, earlier, Gustav, which made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane near Cocodrie, Louisiana, at 10 am local time on 1 September. The storm did not affect distribution from the Columbus, Indiana forklift production site of Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing.

High winds of Hurricane Ike damaged the roof of the ToyotaLift of Houston facility and caused loss of electrical power, telephone phone lines and water service.

ToyotaLift's facility was shut down temporarily, and workers experienced difficulties in reopening the location because of the lack of power and water and scattered debris across the region. In Houston, local service stations lost power limiting fuel for the dealership's service vans and employees trying to return to work. Numerous dealership personnel, while spared injury, had to contend with their own personal property issues.

Hurricane Gustav caused wind and water damage at the facility of Scott ToyotaLift in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the dealership lost access to its computers for an entire week.

On 18 September, four Toyota companies, affiliates of TMHU, contributed USD500,000 to the American Red Cross, and the family-owned multi-state Houston-based Gulf States Toyota Inc dealership added USD500,000 to the Friedkin Disaster Relief Fund. The Friedkin family established the fund after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Crown Lift Trucks Houston anticipated customer post-storm needs and strategically positioned some internal combustion rental forklifts for use in the region, says Chris Fogt, branch manager. No damage occurred at the direct-factory branch.

Two days after Hurricane Ike, "nearly 80% of the Houston area was without power, but our office was up and running," he notes. The Crown team fielded dozens of maintenance calls, particularly from food and water bottling operations with urgent requirements.

As the clean-up continued, Crown Houston worked weekend shifts to make maintenance calls. At one site, Crown technicians charged and rotated the forklift truck batteries for a customer lacking power but needing to keep two shifts in operation at the facility.

"While Galveston was closed to public traffic, Crown Houston obtained a letter of approval from the governor's office to service a well-known retailer located there," Fogt reports.

The damage from Hurricane Ike extended through the central US.

In Blue Ash, Ohio, a forklift at the disaster relief organisation Matthew 25: Ministries transported pallets loaded with seven-pound bags of ice and bottled water for individuals waiting in the parking lot. The aftermath of Hurricane Ike tore through this region late 14 September.

The Matthew 25 organisation, a local radio station and a Member of Congress collaborated to provide tons of ice and thousands of half-litre bottles to Blue Ash area residents primarily lacking electrical power for refrigeration and water for essential needs.

Meanwhile, in East Sparta, Ohio, strong winds and rain remnants of Hurricane Ike cut the electrical power and telephone lines to Williams Toyota Lift. The dealership was limited to communicating via cell phone for three days.

While the store remained open, the impact affected the ability of Williams Toyota Lift to perform maintenance and service calls.
Recovery from Hurricane Ike will take weeks and months. Many businesses and residents continue to lack electrical power and efficient telephone service.

Telephone lines misconnect. A call to the Houston, Texas number for a Hyster and Taylor used forklift business, for instance, led to the disaster hotline for the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which had a full mailbox of incoming voice messages.

By 23 September, power in key Texas regions remained unavailable for 27% of CenterPoint Energy Inc's 2.26 million customers, 17% of Texas-New Mexico Power Co's 115,000 customers, 9% of Sam Houston Electric Cooperative Inc's 65,700 customers and 3% of Entergy Corp's 393,000 Texas customers.

Even as power is restored, health issues exist. Operators of forklift-related and other businesses and residents in Galveston, Baytown, Beaumont and nearby Texas coastal areas remain vulnerable to contaminated water, insect-borne diseases and airborne toxins such as carbon monoxide.
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