Trucking, Logistics Firms Assess Florence-Related Relief Needs

Lumber River overflowing Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C.
The Lumber River overflows Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C., on Sept. 18. (Gerry Broome/AP)

Although Florence was downgraded to a tropical depression Sept. 16, people in the Carolinas continue to grapple with the chaos the storm inflicts.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported more than 486,000 power outages as of Sept. 17. Flooding has rendered hundreds of roads impassable, including portions of interstates 95 and 40. Matthew Hendrix, senior director of fleet services at Fleet Advantage, said that bottlenecks on arterial roads can cause a one-hour drive to last three hours, stalling movement for passenger vehicles and freight haulers alike. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Fleet Advantage uses data analytics to manage fleet costs, such as fuel and maintenance.

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“Whenever the main thoroughfares are shut down, that has a direct impact on dispatch,” Hendrix said. “If they go off those major highways, then there’s added time, which is going to, of course, affect their hours of service.”

In response to the storm, which has claimed at least 32 lives, trucking companies and logistics groups are fielding requests for supplies and mapping out routes to deliver aid.

One such company is Epes Transport, ranked No. 76 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of North American for-hire carriers. Epes, based in Greensboro, N.C., specializes in dry van cargo.


Epes Transport has nearly 400 drivers in North Carolina. (Epes Transport System)

Phil Peck, vice president of operations,said that Epes does not maintain brick-and-mortar facilities east of Greensboro. He said that in the eastern portion of the state, drivers keep their equipment at home with them between runs. Many of the customers and facilities that Epes drivers service in this area have shut down, and many drivers have remained at home.

“We have drivers and customers that operate in the areas down east that are affected,” Peck said. “It’s affecting every carrier that does business in North Carolina, whether they’re based here or not.”

Epes has a fleet of almost 1,400 drivers who are based as far west as Texas and as far northeast as New Jersey. North Carolina is the company’s largest domicile, Peck said, with nearly 400 drivers. Some Texas-based Epes drivers hauled emergency relief supplies when Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017.

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Peck said the company is processing a couple of requests to haul relief products ranging from food and water to building materials and cleaning supplies to affected areas.

“We’re still vetting all those and trying to determine where we can provide some assistance to be the most effective,” Peck said.

Other companies have contributed to storm victims as well. Anheuser-Busch sent six trucks each carrying 50,000 cans of water from its Cartersville, Ga., plant to communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The UPS Foundation donated more than $1 million in the form of grants, transportation movements and technical expertise to recovery efforts. FedEx is assisting in the delivery of relief and medical supplies.

Kathy Fulton, executive director of the American Logistics Aid Network, said the group received many requests for supplies before Florence reached the coast. ALAN links logistics experts to nonprofit groups that specialize in disaster relief.

Fulton acknowledged that requests for assistance will continue even after the rain has subsided.

“What’s really surprising about Florence is that it’s gotten so much attention that we’ve seen our nonprofit partners submit those requests much earlier than they have in the past,” Fulton said. “We know that some of those requests are going to continue to flow in over the weekend and through next week and perhaps even longer.”

The requests, which ALAN posts on its website, call for forklifts, electric pallet jacks and warehouse space to hold food donations and animals that have been displaced by the storm.

The group has not received specific requests for transporting goods, but Fulton is confident they will come. She pointed out that emergency responders can sometimes predict the need for warehouse space but cannot divine where donations will originate.

“We know that there will be transportation requests; we just don’t have them yet,” Fulton said. “[With] transportation, you don’t necessarily know what that route is going to look like [or] where that donation is going to be.”