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May 12, 2011 8:00 AM, EDT

Tornadoes and Trucking

This editorial appears in the May 9 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this editorial stated incorrectly that Utility Trailer Manufacturing’s Glade Spring, Va., manufacturing plant had been “flattened.” The company said that the plant has resumed operations and is on track to produce at least 2,400 trailers in the remainder of 2011.

When we read or watch news reports concerning the devastation caused by natural disasters, we usually are able to relate to the tragedies on a human level.

But these calamities, in most cases, also seem quite distant, and often they are. How many of us have been in northeastern Japan or on the coast of Thailand, or even the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa?

Our report this week on the historic string of tornadoes that tore through the South late last month brings home just what such an unexpected event can do to a truck fleet or trailer maker.

The tornado outbreak, the worst in at least 30 years by most reports, killed at least 328 people in six states and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

The death toll was shocking, and the video of the giant swirling funnels plowing through buildings and of survivors recounting their losses or their narrow escapes was heart wrenching.

By zeroing in on the effects of the storms on a few trucking-related businesses, our story brought home the aftermath in a more personal way.

Christopher Cooper, we learn, has been running Boyd Bros. Transportation Inc. in Birmingham, Ala., from the cab of his pickup truck since the storms tore the roof off the fleet’s headquarters on April 27.

“We had some pretty significant damage,” Cooper told our reporter, but the primarily flatbed fleet — with about 950 tractors — has continued to operate.

Things are starting to look up, Cooper said; the fleet got its electricity service back on May 3, although he still has to work out of his personal truck, pending repairs to the headquarters building.

Meanwhile, workers at Carrier Transicold South burrowed through the flattened wreckage of their Birmingham headquarters and dug out the equipment they used to service the refrigerated trailers they rent and maintain.

Because their building is gone, workers at Carrier Transicold have loaded the equipment onto mobile units and are taking it to customers’ locations.

And then there’s the town of Glade Spring, Va., whose residents seem to be unusually dependent on trucking for their livelihood.

The Petro Truck Stop there was demolished, putting about 100 workers out of jobs, at least temporarily, and the storms also damaged a Utility Trailer Manufacturing Inc. plant in the area that employs more than 300 local workers.

It appears that most of the damaged businesses in the affected areas are going to be rebuilt, and with them, the lives of the survivors, underscoring the resiliency of our nation’s — and our industry’s — people.