East Coast container traffic ground to a halt on Thursday as ports from Florida to Georgia closed in anticipation of wind damage and dangerous sea conditions from Hurricane Matthew.
Expected to reach the east coast of Florida by Thursday night, the storm has sustained winds of 140 mph and continues to strengthen as it plods northwards at 14 mph, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Hurricane Center.
Winds of that speed can shut down supply chain operations by air, road, or sea due to wind damage, storm surge flooding, and power outages. The storm, classified as a "Category Four," demonstrated that destructive power as it swept through the Caribbean this week, causing dozens of deaths in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
In response, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina have declared states of emergency, and have ordered mandatory evacuations in coastal regions, jamming highways with heavy traffic that could also snarl cargo on truck routes.
In Florida, PortMiami has closed all cargo terminals until further notice and shut the port to all incoming and outgoing vessel traffic, following the U.S. Coast Guard's most dire emergency level, known as "port condition zulu." The port has also shut down its tunnel, bridge, and rail traffic.
Up in Fort Lauderdale, Port Everglades was under the same restrictions, posting a 12-hour alert in anticipation of gale-force winds and closing all landside operations except for inbound deliveries of gasoline. The entire port was scheduled to shut by midday Thursday. All vessels except for secured ferries and tugs were already required to leave by Wednesday morning.
In Georgia, terminals at the Port of Savannah, the nation's fourth-busiest containerport, will close to truck traffic starting tomorrow and continuing into Saturday, according to the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), which runs the port and its terminals. Savannah's Garden City Terminal, its primary facility, will close to truck traffic Saturday, GPA said. The nearby Port of Brunswick, which handles bulk, breakbulk, and roll-on/roll-off traffic such as autos, is closed to all work activities, GPA said.
The U.S. Coast Guard will restrict vessel arrival and departure transits this evening, GPA said. Vessel activity is expected to resume at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, weather conditions permitting.
Officials at South Carolina's Port of Charleston said the port was operating under normal working hours on Thursday, and that they were closely monitoring weather conditions.
Atlanta-based UPS Inc. said today that there would be no pickups or deliveries today in the areas of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina impacted by the storm. In a service alert yesterday, Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Corp., the rail giant that serves the Southeast and Midwest, said it has repositioned equipment away from the affected coastal areas and moved shipments inland to secured rail yards. Traffic in route is being held at various yards across its system in an effort to alleviate congestion in the affected regions, Norfolk Southern said.
Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX Corp., which has significant exposure in Florida, said today it will suspend operations by late this afternoon on its main line in the state from Auburndale, about 56 miles southwest of Orlando, through Orlando and Sanford and into Jacksonville. Operations on its mainline from Jacksonville to Savannah will be curtailed Friday morning, CSX said.
The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), which connects the resources of the transport and logistics community with the needs of disaster-relief groups, said in an e-mail communiqué today that it anticipates the need for warehouse space, transportation, and material handling equipment, but that requests for such items may take several days to a week to be made as damage assessments are completed and local resources at the ready are exhausted.
ALAN said it is trying to procure forklifts to support a Salvation Army feeding operation in Daytona Beach and is working with its domestic partners to respond to needs in the Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba, countries that have been battered by the storm.
Donations of warehouse space or transportation equipment should be made by submitting offers at alanaid.org/how-to-help/offerinkind/. Alternatively, prospective donors can contact Kathy Fulton, ALAN's executive director, at 863-668-4238 or 863-559-6188, or by e-mail at Kathy@ALANaid.org.