Hurricane Katrina

October 5, 2005 - 11:17

Hurricane Katrina caused massive damage in the Gulf Coast and parts of Florida. See how growers fared through the storm and what the industry is doing to help.

For the past month, we have been watching the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused on the Gulf Coast. People lost their homes, jobs and, most importantly, family members. The damage is extensive, and everyone, including area businesses, has taken a huge hit.

Information from the hardest hit areas was just starting to come in at press time. Florida was a bit more forthcoming, but keep in mind that when Katrina hit Florida, it was still “only” a Category 1 hurricane. You can imagine what Katrina was like when it hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as a Category 4.

Report on Louisiana

Robert Dupont, president of Dupont Nursery, Plaquemine, La., and president of the Athens Select Program, shared an update on the damage to his property. “We’re about 87-90 miles northwest of New Orleans, and we had about 70- to 80-mile-an-hour winds. It pulled all of the roofs off about a little less than half of the nursery. We had one greenhouse that all of the pins broke, and it just folded back; it [the roof] was standing straight up in the air.”

“We have 20,000 sq.ft. of Dynaglass houses that are in good shape, and we had a little bit of poly off some roofs. The amazing thing was the plants, even plug trays, weren’t blown off the bench. We had a few benches in the houses that we didn’t take the roofs off of that blew around; we had them anchored, but it [the wind] pulled the cement out. The benches outside were ok because we put the plugs on them, and they filled up with water.”

“There were many greenhouses below New Orleans, and we haven’t heard yet how they are or if they are still there [as of GPN press time]. Customers in New Orleans are pretty much under water, and I haven’t been able to talk to anyone there,” Dupont added.

Though we have tried, we were unable to contact any other growers close to New Orleans to see how their operations fared in this disaster.

Report on Mississippi

We also got access to an E-mail written September 1 by Rick Snyder, professor and vegetable specialist from Mississippi State University’s Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center, Crystal Springs, Miss. The E-mail stated: “First, I should say that communications here are still really poor. During the power outage, phones and cell phones did not work most of the time. We have a small black and white television that runs on nine D batteries. We ran it 10 minutes at a time, two or three times a day to conserve batteries, because the unofficial word was that it would take 2-3 weeks to get power back. It turned out not to be that bad in this part of the state.”

“My Experiment Station (Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, Miss.) still has no electricity and no water. We are having to keep thousands of seedling plants alive by dipping pond water and hand watering. This is hard work for our staff, but we don’t want to lose everything. We have several large trees, two power lines and a transformer on the ground. But just minor structural damage.” Power did finally come back on for Snyder September 7, after more than a week without it.

Report on Florida

The Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA) reports the nursery industry in South Florida incurred significant crop loss and structural damage when Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the Broward-Miami Dade County line and unexpectedly turned south, tearing through Homestead — one of the most concentrated nursery production areas in the nation. Preliminary estimates put the damage at more than $400 million, according to the Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Nurseries were under water; shade cloth was ripped away, exposing sun-sensitive plants; greenhouse roofs collapsed; and a loss of power rendered irrigation systems inoperable. One of the major complaints we heard is that Katrina’s strength was underestimated, since it was only a Category 1; therefore, people were not as ready for it. Another factor was that it suddenly turned south, hitting the Homestead area and catching residents unprepared.

“About 80 percent of the losses were to the nursery industry, which is the largest segment of the state’s $6.5-billion agriculture industry and is even bigger than citrus,” according to an article from the Associated Press (AP).

“Sally Stribling, who owns Miami-Agra Starts Inc. with her brother Jim, said they lost about 80 percent of their products, mostly ficus trees,” said the AP article.

The GPN staff heard from King’s Foliage in Homestead who reported: “While our damage is nothing like what happened there [in the Gulf States], the Homestead area is heavily damaged, with many nurseries closed altogether, while others have limited availability. Our own nursery came through the wind and flooding with minimal damage, and all our crops have been drenched and sprayed immediately and the shadecovering replaced.”

According to Dave Self, owner of Wyld West Annuals in Loxahatchee, Fla., and Secretary of Treasury for FNGLA, the hardest-hit places were the plastic cover and shade houses. Some of the larger growers were 50-90 percent stripped of their shade. Many of them were also under water for several days, meaning there may be extensive water damage to the plants.

“It [hurricane damage] will put the industry behind about six months or so, with the cleanup and putting all of the shade back up. It’s a bad situation for us because it is the largest producing county in the state. The foliage people took a pretty big hit.”

Supply Relief

According to an article in USA Today, “Many major chains announced they would freeze prices at open stores on items needed for cleanup, including chainsaws, plywood, wet-dry vacuums, cleaning products, mops, trash bags, flashlights and batteries.”

Though a number of stores had to close because of storm damage, they are in the process of figuring out how to reopen in a timely manner. Lowes used volunteers from other stores to open up and run stores in the Gulf states.

Wal-Mart is in the process of reopening 62 of its stores in Mississippi and Louisiana. “No price increases can be put through our system on products related to the storm: water, tarps, gas cans, etc. The price [freeze] goes in place when a disaster starts,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber in the USA Today article.

Sears/Kmart also had a number of stores close, but they are in the process of stocking up on generators and cleaning supplies for when the stores are safe enough to reopen. “‘We have emergency orders placed with our vendors for clean-up supplies,’ said spokesman Chris Brathwaite, noting 30 truckloads of generators were ready for routing once stores are deemed safe and cleared to reopen,” stated the article. Home Depot is planning on doing the same.

Stores such as The Home Depot, Lowes and many other major companies in the country have donated money and supplies to the effort through the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Industry Relief

Within the last several weeks, associations, growers, manufacturers, breeders, etc. have been offering all they can to help the people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

GPN has been collecting reports of industry members who have lent more than a helping hand. Even after finding a number of instances, we still haven’t scratched the surface of the generosity that is being extended to the people in need. Listed below are some of the industry’s efforts to help those affected by Katrina. If you are looking for ways to help but are not sure where to turn, visit some of the Web sites below. They can help you lend support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

SNA Industry Disaster Support Program. The Southern Nursery Association (SNA) will be assessing the industry’s needs in the weeks and months ahead. In preparation for the expected needs, the association has activated the SNA Industry Disaster Support Program designed to respond to such needs. While the majority of this effort is expected to be in the form of loaned equipment (generators, pumps, chain saws, etc.) and labor (donated crews) to help get nurseries back up and running, thereby saving plant inventories, other support through monetary contributions is also needed to purchase supplies. On the SNA Web site (www.sna.org) there is a form you can fill out to indicate any areas where you and your business can be involved. For any questions contact the SNA office at (770) 953-3311.

The Society of American Florists. The Society of American Florists (SAF) is assessing short- and long-term opportunities for interested industry members to help, either through financial contributions or flower donations.

SAF is keeping a list of industry members who call its office willing to help. SAF will contact those people if and when the need for assistance in specific areas arises. In the meantime, SAF has posted contact information for key national organizations through which those wanting to can provide financial support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Web site www.safnow.org/katrinaindustryresponse.htm lists a number of floral organizations to which people can donate, as well as job postings for hurricane victims who are in need. The site also offers contact information for the relief agencies working in the affected states.

SAF is updating the Web site regularly, so please keep checking it. SAF has also set up an E-mail address, katrina.relief@safnow.org, for people wanting to help or share news.

PLANET’s Emergency Disaster Support Program. The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) emergency disaster support program will be developing as the needs of the green industry becomes clearer. PLANET’s Web site (www.landcarenetwork.org) lists the following ways people can help support the victims of Katrina.

PLANET is asking people to consider giving financial support to the victims.
Temporary jobs can also be provided to people from the Gulf States area who are temporarily unemployed. (Members can post the listings on the PLANET Web site, and nonmembers can send an E-mail to jobs@landcarenetwork.org.)

People can make member-to-member donations of any labor or equipment, and it will be loaned to those in the crisis area.

The association is offering information to green industry members who live in declared disaster areas, as well as homeowners and renters who have been affected.

To directly assist its members in their time of need, PLANET is offering complimentary membership renewals for companies in the crisis area for the 2005-2006 time period. Please contact the PLANET offices at (800) 395-2522 to renew your membership.

Donations

Many companies, associations and manufacturers have been generous enough to donate sums of money to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. We know there are many of you out there, and this industry is very thankful for what you have done. Below are a few of the companies we were able to identify that have helped with the hurricane relief efforts.

OFA. Doug Cole, president of OFA and owner of D.S. Cole Growers, Loudon, N.H., discussed the support OFA has given.

“At OFA we have decided to donate all of our proceeds and more from our involvement with the SNA event this summer. Rather than start an effort of our own, we are providing $7,000 to the SNA efforts. When John Holmes (our executive director) came up with this idea to provide funds to SNA, the response from the OFA board was unanimous in granting him the permission to make it happen. We are listening for the current status of the growers in the storm’s path. It is hard to second-guess what each affected grower needs. For some, the most important need is simply fuel, while others have lost almost everything.”

OFA also sent an E-mail stating that on top of what it has already donated, it is likely to increase this commitment as it learns more about the equipment, labor, food, water and financial needs.

The Dow Chemical Company. Dow has an-nounced it will contribute $3 million to the hurricane relief efforts. The donation will consist of:

  • $1 million in an immediate cash donation to the American Red Cross.
  • $1 million match of employee and retiree donations to the American Red Cross. The more than 1,100 Indianapolis-based employees of Dow AgroSciences will have the opportunity to contribute.
  • $1 million in products and technology donations for the longer-term reconstruction effort. Additionally, retirees and employees are being asked to donate blood to replenish supplies lost in the region and to give their time assisting their local relief agencies when they ask for volunteers.

Hines Horticulture. During the month of September, Hines Horticulture donated a portion of all total product sales to the American Red Cross to assist in the recovery of the families and communities affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In addition, Hines organized a corporate-wide donation drive on Friday, September 9 for all employees to donate non-perishable goods to help the victims of the storm. All donations will go to the Houston Food Bank, a non-profit organization based in Houston, Texas, that is working in conjunction with the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

There are many people, companies, associations, etc. in this industry helping the people in the Gulf States right now. The organizations mentioned above are just a few of them. If you know of any additional industry relief efforts, please E-mail us the details at cevans@sgcmail.com.

About The Author

Catherine Evans is associate editor of GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1050 or E-mail at cevans@sgcmail.com.

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