September 17, 2018

Florence's winds continue to slow, but heavy rain triggers road, track, and port closures.

Carriers warn clients of freight delays, as floods shutter logistics sites.

By Ben Ames

Many ports and highways remain closed today in the wake of Hurricane Florence, slowing the movement of both commercial freight and disaster relief supplies as authorities warn that continuing rainfall in low-lying areas will continue to cause flooding for several more days.

After making landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Friday, the storm slowed to a tropical depression, but it has dumped heavy rain through the region that has caused at least 19 deaths, knocked out power to about 800,000 homes and businesses, and cutting off the coastal city of Wilmington, N.C., from the rest of the state, according to published reports.

Floodwaters also closed a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 95 running north of Fayetteville, N.C., prompting officials to advise motorists to detour far west into Tennessee and follow Interstate 75 through Georgia.

Although its wind speeds have dwindled as the storm moves over land, Florence is continuing to drop heavy rainfall that is expected to lead to flash flooding as creeks and rivers rise over the next few days to a week, Carly Olexik, communications officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), said in a video posted Saturday. "The impacts from Hurricane Florence are not over once the storm passes," Olexik said. "Many areas in the Sandhills and northeastern North Carolina will experience worse flooding than compared to Hurricane Matthew," a 2016 storm that plowed through Florida, Georiga, the Carolinas, and Virginia.

One more complication of Hurricane Florence is that the storm is flooding additional regions faster than global positioning system (GPS) apps can update their maps, NCDOT warned. That is causing trouble because GPS navigation companies are not keeping up with all the road closures and are directing people onto roads that are confirmed closed and flooded, the department said.

In response, the department says travel is not advised in or through North Carolina, citing flooding in the southern and eastern parts of the state and potential landslides in the west. "GPS systems are routing users into areas NCDOT is not recommending for travel," the department warned on its website. "As the situation is rapidly changing NCDOT is doing our best to report these closures but recognizes that we are not yet aware of all closures, therefore we advise not to travel in these areas."

Likewise, Thomasville, N.C.-based less-than-truckload (LTL) motor carrier Old Dominion Freight Line reported Monday that many of its operations in the region has been severely affected. On its website, Old Dominion warned of interruptions to service caused by severe weather conditions related to Hurricane Florence.

Old Dominion said its facility in Wilmington, N.C., remains completely closed while a nearby facility in Florence, S.C., is running at just 25 percent of capacity. Other impacts in the region include the company's sites in Fayetteville and Wilson, N.C., running at 50 percent capacity, and additional delays reported in Durham, N.C., Norfolk, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.

Other carriers are struggling with a lack of information about the storm's damage. Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad operator CSX is warning customers with shipments traveling through the I-95 freight rail corridor to expect delays as the company reroutes freight around the area, CSX spokesperson Katie Chimelewski said in an email. "Because we continue assessing our infrastructure as it is safe to do so, we do not have a complete picture of all the impacts. CSX is rerouting train traffic around track segments we know to be flooded or damaged, or segments that have yet to be inspected," Chimelewski said.

The situation is no better in the state's coastal region, where the ports of Wilmington and Morehead City will remain closed through Wednesday, according to the North Carolina State Ports Authority. As of Monday, the neighboring South Carolina Ports Authority was doing better, reporting it had reopened most of its marine and intermodal rail facilities except for Inland Port Dillon, which may open for road traffic on Tuesday and rail on Wednesday, the port said.

The road, track, and port closures are also affecting response and aid efforts, many of which are coordinated by the charitable disaster recovery organization the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN). In its response to Hurricane Florence, ALAN has already helped link several donors of logistics services such as regional warehouse space with the non-profit organizations that are struggling to supply food, water, and medical aid for disaster survivors. ALAN is still looking for additional products and services such as donations of warehouse space, temperature-controlled warehouse space, and material handling equipment such as forklifts and pallet jacks.


About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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