Life interrupted: Recovering from hostile weather conditions

November 6, 2015 By    
foter-flood

Photo: Forsaken Fotos / photo on flickr

Forces of nature wreaked havoc from one end of the country to the other over the last couple of months as the winter heating season approached and propane marketers readied deliveries ahead of soon-to-be busy schedules.

But what transpired had nothing to do with winter weather.

Last month we touched on the wildfires that raged in California and had the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA) disseminating safety information to its members and the public.

Soon after the wildfires simmered down, a stubborn weather system parked itself off the East Coast and set off historic rainfall in several states. South Carolina was one of the hardest hit, with rainfall totals reaching 2 feet in some areas.

Corky Clark, executive director of the South Carolina Propane Gas Association (SCPGA), grew up in an area of Columbia, S.C., called Forest Acres, which sustained heavy flood damage and was a focal point for media coverage of the weather event. Clark doesn’t live far from this area now and says water reached the rooftop of some businesses there. A local bank had 4 feet of water in its building and won’t open again until Christmas, he says.

“Once the rains are gone and the floodwaters subsided and the sun’s out, it’s so easy to put this behind you if you’re not directly affected, but so many people are affected in this area,” Clark says.

At one point, he says, hundreds of roads and bridges closed due to the floodwaters, and some won’t see repairs likely until after the new year. This has impacted traffic flow around Columbia and forced schools into delays as buses navigate the safest routes.

“I’ve seen tougher times for the gas business during the winter when we’ve had some super cold winters, but I haven’t seen in our area the devastation for the general population like I’ve seen with this,” says Clark, who has led the 240-member association for the last 15 years.

Clark worked in Mississippi for a week in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina and says he saw water rise to second-story windows. He’s seen flood damage and the devastation it can cause. He says what he saw in a more concentrated area of South Carolina was just as bad as the aftermath he saw in Mississippi following Katrina.

“It was a devastating event for many people in this state, and many folks have lost virtually everything, but from the propane business itself we all fared pretty well,” Clark says, when asked specifically about his members.

Two parts of the state were hit particularly hard, Clark says – Columbia, in the middle part of the state, and the Georgetown area, where five rivers come together in the lower part of the state. Areas around Columbia where dams broke and floodwaters came through were primarily served by natural gas, he says.

Clark was in contact with one propane marketer who was scouring a river for tanks undone by the floodwaters – always an industry concern for equipment amid rising waters. Overall, though, Clark’s phone remained relatively quiet, especially considering the magnitude of the event.

Just as WPGA shared industry safety materials and best practices with members and propane consumers when dealing with wildfires, the South Carolina association did the same for floods. The information appeared on the SCPGA website, and Clark says the association shared the details with members and in a news release for the state’s emergency management office and local media.

These last two months brought us two examples of the serious impact natural disasters can have on the areas in which we live and potentially on our industry.

What can we take away from these events? Be alert and ready for “next time.” Have a plan for your company, employees and customers. Take advantage of the industry materials available to you that you can share within your community, if necessary. And be safe.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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