Hurricanes Harvey and Irma deluged NAES employees and facilities from Texas to Florida, putting some of them out of their homes and taking a number of plants off line. In spite of their adversity, however, they rose to the occasion and rendered aid to their fellows at both the individual and corporate levels.
Several employees of Gridforce Energy Management, a NAES subsidiary based in Houston, lost their vehicles and two others lost everything in their homes other than what they were able to take with them when they evacuated.
Other, more fortunate Gridforce employees learned of a low-income apartment house for the elderly that had flooded throughout the first floor, trapping those on higher floors for three days. They purchased food and water and delivered it to the residents.
Gridforce staff members also participated in a program sponsored by local restaurant owners that utilized their commercial kitchens to prepare food for evacuees and use private citizens to handle the distribution. “We prepared thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and delivered them to EMS workers at the convention center, which was used as a shelter,” said Gridforce President C. J. Ingersoll.
After lingering over southern Texas for five days and dumping as much as 50 inches of rain on an area the size of Delaware, Hurricane Harvey moved east toward Louisiana. A number of Greenberry Gulf Coast employees at the Sulphur, LA facility sustained flooding of their homes and vehicles. “We had about four feet of water in our house,” said Greenberry HR Representative Beth Langston. “The upstairs is okay, but the walls and ceiling downstairs had to be stripped down to the studs due to the mold.”
Beth and her husband also lost both of their cars and their motorhome. They stayed in a hotel until October 13 and are currently living in a travel trailer, which they bought and parked next to their home until it could be rendered habitable again. Dustin Stark, also of Greenberry, and his family lost all of their personal belongs, including two cars. They’re currently staying with his parents in Lafayette, a 90-minute commute from Sulphur.
On August 31, when the Langstons were trapped on the second floor of their home with water steadily rising around them, Greenberry employee Garry Trahan came to their rescue with his boat. Garry and several of his coworkers serve with an organization known as the Cajun Navy. This 100 percent volunteer group, which first organized following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, played a critical role in rescue efforts in Lousiana, especially during the early days before FEMA was able to deploy to the region. Another Greenberry employee, Claude Aucoin, and his family served hot meals to hundreds of evacuees at a nearby rescue station.
In addition to these individual acts of heroism, NAES stepped up at the corporate level. The executive team set up a discretionary fund for each of the facilities whose employees were affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. They also included those that sustained damage from the earthquake in southern Mexico, which followed swiftly on the storms’ heels.
In addition, they challenged the employees of NAES and its subsidiaries to support the American Red Cross’ relief efforts with a donation, agreeing to match up to $50,000 with a corporate contribution. As of this writing, employees have put up over $37,000.
As the remnants of Harvey continued to inundate other states across the Southeast, Hurricane Irma was developing in the Atlantic. Its three consecutive days as a Category 5 storm – with sustained winds topping out at 185 mph – set a new record for longest duration as a Category 5. While Irma lost some of its steam as it passed over Cuba before striking Florida, the storm still left 15 million Floridians without power for five days or more. This included employees of several NAES-operated plants: Indiantown, Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) and Shady Hills. Two employees at Indiantown put in for assistance, and several GREC employees sustained interior flooding and roof damage.
Lorie Thebaut, GREC Administrative Manager, reported that torrential rains had compromised much of the plant’s biomass fuel stock. “We’re just trying to use all the bad fuel asap,” she added. “Fortunately, we’ve been allowed to run for a change.”
According to Gary Willer, Indiantown Plant Manager, the facility sustained only minor damage. “We’d had a similar series of major storms in 2004,” he said, “which motivated us to harden the plant against future hurricanes.” They did, however, have to replace much of the corrugated siding on their cooling towers, which Irma’s winds had shredded.