September 19, 2018

Florence flooding keeps Port of Wilmington, NC, closed to trucks until Monday

Planned 14-day closure could squeeze imports of bananas, clementines.

By Ben Ames

The impact of Hurricane Florence continues to reverberate through the country's supply chains as North Carolina's ports of Wilmington and Morehead City remained on restricted operations today, with spokesmen saying they won't resume full commercial truck operations until Monday.

Those ports had originally closed to commercial truck activity on Wed. Sept. 12, as logistics operations throughout the southeastern U.S. braced for the storm's arrival, so the schedule would ultimately mark a disruption of 14 days in truck service.

Fortunately, all major infrastructure—including the towering gantry cranes—at both locations have been assessed and weathered the storm with no damage, according to a statement from the North Carolina State Ports Authority. But as floodwaters linger throughout the region, recovery is taking time. The two ports are scheduled to reopen to employees on Thursday, and to begin handling vessel operations by the end of the week.

The delay in restoring service could have an impact on a broad array of goods, since the Port of Wilmington says it is North America's largest banana port, the largest port of entry for Moroccan clementines, and a major gateway for imports of fresh fruit and juice concentrate. Altogether, the port says it is responsible for 5,900 direct, indirect, and induced jobs, producing $436 million in business revenue, $409 million in personal income, and $41 million in state and regional taxes every year.

Florence first threatened coastal states as a huge, Category 4 storm spinning in the southern Atlantic. It had weakened to a Category 1 storm by the time it made landfall on Friday, but its slower wind speeds belied the storm's true impact, which has been felt in the widespread flooding caused by its persistent rains. Florence has dropped up to 40 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina and South Carolina, closing highways and shuttering facilities.

Among other impacts, that flooding has also killed millions of farm animals in North Carolina alone, including 3.4 million poultry and 5,500 hogs, according to published reports.

Delays also persisted in South Carolina, where eastern railroad CSX Corp. is planning to resume regular service from Charleston to Inland Port Dillon northbound (imports) today. Regular service for Dillon to Charleston southbound (exports) will be determined later in the week, based on conditions, port authorities said.

In response to the conditions, relief organization the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is continuing its efforts to mobilize volunteers to help. ALAN coordinates offers by businesses to donate logistics assets such as warehouse space and trucking service that supplement non-profit organizations' capabilities to supply critical items for disaster recovery. "As Florence's flood waters begin to recede, our relief partners will need help getting items to and from impacted areas, which is when we expect donated services like transportation to become especially critical," ALAN Executive Director Kathy Fulton said in a statement on the group's website.

The supply chain congestion caused by Florence highlights the importance of companies' ability to create contingency plans for disruptions, whether they are triggered by natural disasters like hurricanes or by business conditions such as fluctuating fuel costs or new tariffs, said Toby Brzoznowski, co-founder & chief strategy officer of LLamasoft, Inc. The firm is a logistics technology provider based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that provides tools for building a virtual supply chain analysis tool known as a digital twin.

"If you have the luxury of a few days notice, like a hurricane will provide, you can use a digital twin to model your supply chain and simulate what will happen if a port is closed or a road is flooded or a DC is shut," Brzoznowski said. "Then you can create a contingency plan, and re-optimize, to determine the next-best alternative and figure out 'How should I flow things differently, given that these lanes are closed?'"

Applied to a situation like the sustained flooding caused by Florence, that approach might enable companies in that region to mitigate supply chain disruptions by studying historical events to predict which goods might see a rush in demand, pre-positioning inventory at stores, and re-routing inventory replenishing trips to avoid closed areas, he said.

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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