Hurricane Harvey Flooded Us, But Couldn’t Drown Our WSI Spirit - Mar 2018

If theres one thing Gulf states know how to weather, its hurricanes. WSIs Baytown, Texas, facility, operated for Covestro located just outside Houston is no exception. When a Category Four hurricane comes knocking, however, theres not much businesses can do but batten down the hatches and wait to see how bad it gets.

Hurricane Harvey tied with 2005s Hurricane Katrina for the costliest hurricane, according to data from the National Hurricane Center, coming in at about $125 billion in damage. Even worse, 88 people were killed in hurricane-related events, thousands were displaced from their homes, and more than 13 million people were impacted in some way across the Southeastern United States.

The Calm Before the Storm

When the first hints of wind and rain made landfall a few hours down the coast in Rockport on August 24th, 2017, operations were still running normally for the Baytown site. The hurricane moved back out into the Gulf briefly on August 25th, and site manager Sam Rivera contacted Covestro to suggest a suspension of second shift operations before it came back. Around 2 a.m., on Saturday, August 26th, Rivera woke up to a lull in the storm. I thought I made a very bad call to close operations, he said. As it turns out, however, he made the right call. Later that day, Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi (about 210 miles west) and brought with it a torrent of rain and wind. As the storm bore down on Baytown, leaders from Covestro and WSI agreed to suspend operations until further notice.

Under the Weather

Facilities remained closed through August 31st, during which time the Houston area saw more than 50 inches of rain. The surrounding area was under more than three feet of water, but fortunately the warehouses storing Covestros products sat on higher ground and remained dry. Fortunately, using 24-hour video surveillance, WSI personnel could monitor all of the buildings for flooding and leaks without actually being on site.

WSIs employees, however, didnt fair as well as the companys buildings. More than 60 percent of Baytowns staff were severely impacted due to the flooding. Five staff members lost their cars, and four lost their homes entirely. Many more were trapped by flood waters that held steady at four or five feet, closing most of the major highways (and cutting off access to WSI).

On September 1st, Covestro asked if there was any way WSI could get any personnel to the site to cover some emergency orders. Sam Rivera began calling around to see if anyone could make it in. On the fifth day, Covestro said hey Sam, these customers are literally out of stock. We cannot supply the material from any other location. Can you bring anyone in to the site? Out of 38 people, we managed to find five people who had the capability to come to work, Rivera said.

Thats not to say that traveling into work was easy. Craig Humphrey, assistant manager of the Baytown facility, was able to get his truck and fishing boat near enough to one flood-trapped employees house to pick him up. Pedro Hernandez, a material handler, was more than glad to come to work he had been trapped by water for days. To me, that was a huge deal, Rivera said. Craig picking an employee up in a power boat. His house was totally surrounded by water. He was on a little node of land his house wasnt compromised, but he couldnt go anywhere.

Rivera, Humphrey, Hernandez, and two other material handlers managed to make it safely in and worked for nearly 12 hours to meet the needs of their customer. They completed about a dozen emergency loads before shutting down for the day.

As the waters finally began to recede, WSI employees who could get to work safely staffed two skeleton shifts and were able to restore regular shipments to Covestros customers, full operations were restored on September 5th.

Coming in Out of the Rain

While employees were glad to be back at work, there were still many challenges outside of the distribution center. Homes were damaged or destroyed, vehicles werent operational, some were without power, and many were concerned about how they would find the resources to rebuild.

Luckily WSI isnt the type of company that hangs its employees out to dry. Just as workers showed dedication to WSI and Covestro by coming in to address emergency stock-outs, WSI felt a similar sense of responsibility for its employees. Billy Vance, director of operations for WSI, teamed up with Sam Rivera and Craig Humphrey to measure the impact of the hurricane on each employee. They began interviewing employees to understand each individual situation.

We prioritized money to staff and their families that were displaced from their homes and had out-of-pocket expenses for their hotel stays, Rivera said. Also, our focus remained on staff that had lost their homes and transportation to high water until FEMA, Red Cross, and insurance companies could help with coverage. Most employees suffered some type of home damage, so we provided money to help cover food or materials purchases in the interim.

Bob Schroeder, CEO of WSI, donated $10,000 to help the Baytown staff with emergency needs and supplies. Within 48 hours of passing the virtual hat, the company also raised an additional $10,000 from other WSI employees around the country. One of WSIs clients also decided to help out. 

Far from Baytown, Texas, up in Portland, Oregon , WSI runs a distribution and returns operation for furniture retailer Simpli Home. Part of that operation involves processing returns that have damaged packaging but are otherwise unharmed. Simpli Home donated a 53-foot trailer full of furniture to help WSI workers to replace what had been lost to flooding, and offered additional products at cost.

Most members of the WSI family who were affected by Hurricane Harvey have fully recovered or are well on their way toward recovery. When tragedy strikes, true character is revealed. For WSIs staff that means dedication to their families, the customer and WSI. We here at WSI are proud to know each of these amazing people, and to call them our family.