As the floodwaters of Hurricane Florence continue to slowly recede from Wilmington, N.C., the online retailer Amazon.com Inc. has installed a pop-up pickup location that allows residents to receive parcel deliveries even if their homes are still isolated by storm damage.
Located in the parking lot of one of the e-commerce giant's local Whole Foods Market grocery stores, the site consists of an Amazon Prime delivery van, a temporary tent, and enough staff to handle the incoming packages holding important items for storm recovery, Seattle-based Amazon said.
In a video of the pickup location filmed by a local radio station, an Amazon employee explains that the site acts as a secure place to receive and store packages full of the items and essentials that storm survivors would not be able to access if their homes are still inaccessible.
The site is intended to operate for just two weeks—orders may be picked up until Oct. 14—and is designed to receive deliveries both for residents and for nonprofit disaster recovery agencies. "Our relief pickup location in Wilmington, N.C., is the latest example of our commitment to supporting our neighbors in immediate need in innovative and impactful ways," Amazon spokesperson Allison Flicker said in an email. "This first-of-its-kind temporary, relief pickup location serves as a convenient, efficient, and effective option for local customers and nonprofits looking for needed items and essentials in a community very much still recovering from Hurricane Florence."
In additional relief actions, the company has also deployed more than 30 trucks with more than 600,000 Amazon-donated disaster relief items, including bottles of water, food, supplies for children in shelters, and other essentials for those affected by the storm, Flicker said.
The pop-up delivery site is open only for products sold or fulfilled by Amazon, weighing less than 35 pounds, and meeting other restrictions, although Amazon said it charges no additional cost to use this site instead of the consumer's home address. The company also operates a permanent Amazon Locker location in the city, although that unit is often full to capacity, according to the company's website.
The retailer has coordinated its effort with disaster relief organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), which is helping disaster response groups to coordinate the storage, transportation, and delivery of goods ranging from shovels, rakes, and gloves to carpet and drywall.
Even three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, that flexible parcel delivery service is important because so many residents are still displaced from their damaged homes and living in shelters or other temporary housing, ALAN Executive Director Kathy Fulton said in an email. "Early on in the disaster—when roads are still flooded and power is still out—the issue is the ability to get deliveries to the address," Fulton said. "The primary issue at this point in the disaster is individuals and families that are still displaced due to damages to their residences. This solution allows them a secure place to receive packages."
Without a pop-up site like Amazon's Wilmington location, survivors are usually forced to rely on direct-to-store deliveries or to having parcels held at a UPS Inc. or FedEx Corp. location, although often those sites may be in industrial areas that are far from community centers, she said.
Indeed, that trend has caused a jump in the volume of direct-to-store deliveries in Wilmington. One area retailer that works with ALAN has recorded a rise in parcel traffic due to the number of families sending "care packages" to storm survivors by addressing online orders to Wilmington stores. In addition to that pattern, the retailer said that local shoppers immediately resumed using its online grocery order and pick-up services once that consumer channel had been restored after the storm, ALAN said.
However, much of the work involved in recovering from the hurricane has not yet begun, since residents cannot start the work of gutting soaked houses, disposing of wreckage, and rebuilding until they can safely return to their neighborhoods, according to ALAN.
Officials are just beginning to tally the extent of the storm's damage, although Port of Wilmington Executive Director Paul Cozza on Wednesday told the Wilmington Star-News that the port alone had sustained $50 million in damage, including warehouse walls sheared away, containers tossed about, and roof sections torn from buildings.