Floyd Floods Waste Industries

When employees at Waste Industries Inc., Raleigh, N.C., began preparing for September's massive Hurricane Floyd, they mainly thought about possible wind damage. Little did they realize that it was water that would cause them the most trouble.

"I don't know what you do to prepare for a flood," says Lonnie Poole, Waste Industries' chairman and CEO. "It wasn't a wind hurricane - it was a wet one."

Waste Industries' headquarters was not hit. But, according to Poole, 18 of the company's collection operations were in the direct path of Hurricane Floyd, which made landfall north of Wilmington, N.C. in mid-September. Most suffered slight or moderate damage because of flooding, road closures and route disruption. Six facilities were in the severely-hit area of the state, and two weeks after the storm, they were running at just half capacity, Poole says.

"The biggest problem was people couldn't get to work, and when they got to work, more than 600 roads [including routes] were closed," Poole says. Characterizing the hurricane as "the most serious business disruption we've ever seen," he says nothing compares to the magnitude of Hurricane Floyd.

The disruption resulted in a loss of the company's earnings at between 5 and 10 cents per share, and about $1.4 million in reduced income and increased expenses for cleanup, says Poole.

However, employees bared the brunt of the storm. Several workers were considered missing for weeks, the homes of many others were washed away, and others could not get to work due to impassable roads. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or deaths of employees, Poole says.

Now, the priority for Waste Industries - like other businesses in hard-hit areas - is working overtime to clean up Floyd's wrath. Bridges still are washed out along some roads, so the North Carolina Department of Transportation in Raleigh is allowing the company to travel some low-tonnage roads to complete its routes. The state's 60-hour work week rule also has been waived, so that drivers can log more hours on the road as long as they are extra-cautious.

Employees also are helping each other by donating vacation time and money, Poole adds. The private philanthropic organization Waste Industries Foundation Inc., Raleigh, has donated $100,000 to victims of the floods, including the company's employees. Waste Industries also has dispatched staff and trucks to the 223 municipal governments with which it contracts.

"We give the towns we serve first priority, and second would be private customers," Poole says.

North Carolina garbage also has been affected by the hurricane, Poole says. "The tonnage coming out of the cans has doubled, and it is all wet," he says. "It's just a world of a mess."

The mess includes spoiled groceries from supermarkets, hazardous waste from hospitals, general debris from washed-away homes, animal corpses and other materials. But Poole says his company is ready to tackle the aftermath of Floyd.

"We just sort through and see who really needs the help the most," he says. "We go where we can make the biggest positive impact. We'll dig out from under this, but it's going to take awhile to do it."