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VOL. 123 | NO. 26 | Thursday, February 7, 2008

Search and Recovery

Individuals, Businesses Look Ahead After Storms

By Eric Smith

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AFTERMATH: The Memphis Oaks Distribution Center at Getwell and Holmes roads is one of numerous
industrial properties that suffered wind damage Tuesday night when a storm tore through the warehouse and distribution district in South Memphis.
-- Photo By Brad Johnson

Ash Wednesday in Memphis began with a search for loss and destruction. The day after storms raked the city and the region, Memphians focused on repairing the physical damage and coming to grips with the human toll.

The recovery continues today.

The storms, which included several tornadoes, hit during regular evening business hours for retailers and as night shift was under way at the warehouses and other logistics companies on both sides of the Mississippi-Tennessee state line.

Late Wednesday morning, National Weather Service and Emergency Management teams were still out across Shelby and DeSoto counties assessing damage from the storm.

National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Beal in Memphis said it appears the storm hit a section of Arlington first in the area of Tenn. 385 and U.S. 70 and then a second cell hit the Hickory Ridge Mall area in Memphis. The mall and the nearby DCS Logistics warehouse, 5650 Challenge Drive, where three people died when the roof collapsed, were among the sites heavily damaged or destroyed. Five other people were injured, had to be pulled from the rubble and were taken to local hospitals. Two were in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.

One of Memphis' key economic engines, the logistics and distribution industries, suffered huge losses - in life and property - that were still becoming apparent late Wednesday.

Beyond the loss of human life, numerous warehouses and distribution centers sustained damage, a staggering blow considering 17 percent of Memphians work in logistics - the most of any metropolitan area in the country. Factor in a fierce storm that ripped through the heart of Memphis' industrial district, and the results were dire.

Bill Fisher, president and CEO of Centrepôt Inc., said his company's facility at 5000 Raines Road fared well in the storm, but many others didn't.

"There was destruction all around us, but our building seems to have escaped unscathed," Fisher said. "The (Hardy Bottling Company) brewery across the street from us and the office park next to us and some of our competitors down the street, they've just been demolished."

The bottling company, known to many Memphians as the old Coors brewery, released 120,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere Tuesday night, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Severe Weather At-a-Glance

The severe weather that hit the Mid-South Tuesday damaged parts of the metro Memphis area - extensively, in some cases. These were the facts as of press time, according to preliminary damage reports.

Shelby County

Three people died and five were injured when a tornado caused a wall to collapse at DSC Logistics.

A wall collapsed at Sears at Hickory Ridge Mall.

A radio tower with Tennessee Highway Patrol and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) antennas fell in Arlington.

Hardy Bottling Co. released 120,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere, though it did not pose a risk to the population, according to TEMA.

Memphis International Airport closed a runway and two taxiways. One gate in Terminal B was damaged. Planes and airstairs were moved. The roof of the FedEx fire station also was damaged.

DeSoto County

A tornado was spotted on the ground in Horn Lake.

Damage has been reported at the intersection of Goodman Road and Airways Boulevard.
Fayette County

One man died when his truck overturned in Somerville.

Up to 25 tractor-trailer trucks were overturned on Interstate 40 between Memphis and Brownsville.

Sources: Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, The Associated Press.

Information compiled by Research Analyst/Wire Editor Kate Simone.

It was not clear Wednesday if the emission was a controlled release. However, TEMA officials said there were no harmful effects.

Fisher, whose building lost power for only a short time during the night, was able to spend Wednesday morning gauging the devastation around Centrepôt's headquarters.

"Katt (Worldwide) Logistics is completely shut down. The roof's gone off the building, a couple of walls have fallen in the warehouse," Fisher said. "Sharp Manufacturing - I don't know what the extent of their damage is, but they're pretty bad off.

"We've been fairly fortunate, but everybody else around us is really hurting."

Despite Fisher's assessment of Katt's damage, Gloria Riehl, executive assistant to Katt CEO Mike Kattawar Jr., said the company is functioning. She acknowledged damage to the building at 4105 S. Mendenhall Road but wouldn't comment on how much was sustained.

"We're still operational," Riehl said. "We're good."

For those who aren't "good," Fisher and Centrepôt are offering assistance.

"We're calling around trying to see who needs help and trying to see what we can do to help out, but right now everybody's still scrambling trying to figure out what their situation is," he said.

Fisher said the concerns for damaged warehouses are grave, from keeping inventory dry if a roof was blown off to keeping goods secure if lost power disabled a security system.

So Centrepôt is reaching out to neighbors and ready to offer temporary or long-term help for their warehousing needs, Fisher said.

"We've already been contacted by a company whose warehouse was really hurting," he said. "We're trying to work with them right now to give them a break with pricing and help them through the pain right now."

A Pinnacle Airlines hangar at Memphis International Airport lost its roof and the National Weather Service's Memphis office reported that a 737 aircraft moved a foot in the high winds. The roof of the FedEx fire station at the airport was also damaged.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division had some damage to its infrastructure - its gas and water systems. By noon Wednesday all water pumping stations were running at full capacity, but some were running on electric generators. Any gas leaks were quickly isolated.

"At some places, we'll have to do some major rebuilding," said utility spokesman Richard Thompson.

At the height of the storm Tuesday evening, more than 64,000 MLGW customers were without power and Hickory Hill was the hardest hit. Thirteen Memphis city schools were closed the day after the storm, most because of power outages.

Several homes near U.S. 385 in Arlington and in the Godwin subdivision of North Shelby County near the Tipton County line lost their roofs, said Shelby County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Shular. There were no injuries.

Thompson emphasized that recovery efforts at homes and businesses are a critical period in the aftermath of such damage.

"Someone can easily sift through debris and there can be a downed power line there," he said. "It's easy for the body to become an electrical conduit. ... We're asking people to be aware of their surroundings."

Generators being used at large sites are also a concern, especially in closed spaces with no ventilation because of carbon monoxide fumes. There are also some electrical hazards.

"They should not attempt to restore power to their entire house by plugging a generator into a wall outlet. They could damage their home wiring system and start a fire," he said. "It could also feed back into the utility system and energize a line that we previously thought was without power. That puts utility workers at risk. We're asking people to tread carefully."

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen began tours Wednesday morning to assess the damage and was expected in the Memphis area today.

"As we look forward, I pledge the full resources of state government to help people rebuild and get back on their feet as quickly as possible," he said in a written statement.

PROPERTY SALES 124 481 17,865
MORTGAGES 127 530 20,565
BUILDING PERMITS 195 891 36,836
BANKRUPTCIES 52 262 11,426