Industry responds to Katrina

October 1, 2005 By    

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged parts of the Southeast United States, much of the landscape was dramatically altered. Entire cities were displaced, homes and real estate were destroyed, businesses were shut down and lives lost.

The propane industry, which has a strong presence in the Southeast, was hit particularly hard, leaving many businesses and industries in shambles.

Jordan Black, associate director of the Louisiana Propane Gas Association, reports great damage in her state to both businesses and homes. But when disaster struck, the state came together quickly.

 The NPGA wrote, produced and distributed a public service announcement for radio broadcast alerting consumers on what to do if they smelled gas or encountered flooded equipment.
The NPGA wrote, produced and distributed a public service announcement for radio broadcast alerting consumers on what to do if they smelled gas or encountered flooded equipment.

“Our office is located in Baton Rouge and we did not have power, phones or e-mail access for a week after the storm and therefore emergency contacts went straight to the LPGA President, Kenny Lucero outside of Lafayette,” says Black. “He did a great job of correspondence and organization until we could get up and running. We then immediately met with Charles Fuller, director of the LP Gas Commission to make sure we were all on the same page.”

Despite the quick reactions and the concentrated relief effort, the propane industry was still greatly impacted by the storms.

“Every business has been changed in some way, if not destroyed. Southeast Louisiana has been greatly damaged; businesses are displaced and employers and employees are without homes,” says Black.

“Even if the office building is standing, there is often no one to work there because of the damage to homes and contamination of the water that is still standing in many parts of Orleans, St. Tammany, St. Bernard and surrounding parishes. The cities that have not been damaged or contaminated by the storm are now housing twice the population. All of these people are without homes and without jobs. Office space is bought up and residential space is going at an even faster rate.”

Understandably, the effort to help has gone more toward helping people and individuals survive and find shelter, food and water than to helping businesses. Black suspects that restoring businesses will be the next phase of recovery.

Already, some businesses with extra office space are renting for a discounted price and trade-off agreements have been made between businesses to help those displaced ones with no cash flow.

The extensive loss of electricity has made propane a vital commodity. Marketers in those areas are struggling to get their operations up and running, but the sense of family among the Louisiana propane community helps ease the sting.

“Everyone within driving distance has offered to help service customers in areas where a propane dealer is not capable to handle it,” says Black. “Dealers as far north as Shreveport have been rallying behind efforts to send assistance to Southeast Louisiana. Everyone has been generous and cooperative.”

In addition to individuals and businesses, the LPGA has been pitching in as well. After meeting with the LP Gas Commission to assess the damage, officials determined that much of the problem can be easily fixed by assistance from dealer to dealer.

The association has organized an effort to communicate between customers, dealers, first responders and others needing propane and propane equipment and the dealers that are up and running. A list of emergency contact information has been sent to all dealers in the state so that they know who to forward calls to if they get an emergency request they cannot fulfill.

Many members have assisted as well, leading the effort to get power up at the New Orleans airport and helping clean up St. Tammany parish in order for residents to re-enter. Propane also is powering the state police communication towers in the New Orleans area.

Black says LPGA has been inundated with calls from people in areas across the country wanting to help and that many state and other associations have offered assistance.

LPGA also put out a nationally produced public service announcement to all radio stations in the state in order to get safety information out to people in effected areas.

Assistance will likely be needed in the cleanup process, as propane tanks and equipment begin to wash up on the shore and need to be collected and redistributed to the appropriate dealer. Luckily, Orleans parish has an ordinance that does not allow propane tanks bigger than the ones used on a propane grill.

“Never did I think I would find a positive spin on that,” says Black concerning the tank restrictions.

In Alabama, AmeriGas, Blossman Gas and Dowdle Butane Gas are the main dealers on the coast. Each is in cleanup mode but not facing any major problems, according to Lisa Fountain, executive director of the Alabama Propane Gas Association.

“The companies seem to be doing fine in Alabama,” says Fountain. “Obviously, we didn’t know in the beginning what the coast looked like. We stayed in contact with our companies on the coast and realized that Alabama was not where the focus was needed. The focus should be on Mississippi and parts of southern Louisiana.”

The Alabama Propane Gas Association is looking to help supply propane to the thousands of recreational vehicles brought in by federal authorities as temporary housing for displaced individuals.

“We have offered to help round up workers for Mississippi when needed,” says Fountain. “In addition, we have the RV’s across the state of Alabama for displaced individuals from Mississippi and Louisiana. We have offered them a membership list and any assistance as far as filling the RV cylinders.”

The National Propane Gas Association also got involved, releasing consumer safety informationon about flooded or damaged equipment the day after Katrina hit land.

NPGA also hosted a southeastern leadership conference call immediately after the storm passed. The call helped the association get information on the industry’s status in the region and obtain local advice on where national resources could be put to the best use. It spurred NPGA to write, produce and distribute a public service announcement for radio broadcast alerting consumers on what to do if they smelled gas or encountered flooded equipment.

Within 24 hours, public service announcements went to local radio stations in the hard-hit southeastern area of the state, as well as to its other media contacts throughout the state.

While dealers in Baton Rouge and areas surrounding New Orleans were busy responding to emergency calls, other contacted Lucero offering supplies and assistance, which he forwarded to the local dealers needing the most help.

In southern Mississippi, debris made most highways impassible. Once, however, propane delivery and service vehicles were not being allowed into the affected areas because they were not considered “emergency equipment” by local law enforcement and federal emergency management officials. After NPGA intervention with Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation leadership, the propane vehicles were granted emergency equipment status and allowed access.

Two new pages dedicated to the crisis were added to the NPGA website at The Hurricane Katrina Industry Assistance page provides information on supply, DOT emergency exemptions, OSHA safety tips, links to other recovery sites and other topics of interest to the industry.

The page also features an electronic bulletin board for propane marketers who either need or can provide help. The message board is not limited to NPGA members and is updated in real time as information becomes available.

The other page provides tips for consumers who have been affected by storms and/or flooding. Consumers are advised to contact their propane marketer, get their installations properly inspected to see if they could be salvaged and get service restored.

The Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association also posted information on its website, regarding gas appliances affected by storms and flooding.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Propane Gas Association spearheaded an effort to get propane to those who need it in the effected areas. An agreement was reached between the propane industry and the Salvation Army to provide propane to prepare meals for displaced victims.

Remaining contributions will be given out in $100 vouchers for customers to use to reinstall propane tanks. Any remaining funds will be donated to the Salvation Army.

Contributions can be sent to:

Propane Gas Fund
C/O Salvation Army
P. O. Box 4851
Jackson, MS 39296

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