More than a week after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, electrical distributors, manufacturers and independent manufacturers’ reps are still assessing damage to facilities and searching for lost employees.
Because some regions are difficult to reach because of flooding, communication and security concerns, those have been tough tasks.

Earlier this week, Summit Electric Supply, Albuquerque, located the last of its two unaccounted-for New Orleans employees. The company was unable to check on its New Orleans service center until Sept. 6.

In the early days following the hurricane, the company was restricted from visiting the service center and had been denied permission to fly over the area.

“We were very lucky. There’s a moderate amount of damage on the roof and a little bit of water damage as a result of the roof, but it was very minor,” said Shelia Hernandez, the company’s vice president of marketing.

The company has 14 New Orleans-based employees who are now scattered as far away as Virginia to Texas. Of those employees, four have lost their homes. The other 10 employees are unable to occupy their homes because of water damage or loss of power.

Branches of the Dallas-based Rexel USA, in Gulfport, Miss., and Harahan, La., were seriously damaged by the hurricane, and the company has still not been able to verify the condition of three employees associated with the Harahan branch.

All 29 employees at the New Orleans branch of Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, are safe, but many of their homes are damaged. Some homes lost a few shingles, while others are completely lost. The hurricane did minimal damage to the branch, but it destroyed several surrounding buildings.

According to a company statement, “These employees are now working at other Graybar locations, with most reporting to the Graybar Baton Rouge branch, and others reporting to Graybar locations in Lake Charles, La.; Houston; Dallas; Memphis, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Little Rock, Ark.

Graybar is providing additional assistance by helping them find temporary housing, reimbursing them for mileage due to longer commutes, and providing breakfast and lunch for those working extra-long hours to aid in the recovery efforts. Concerned employees in these areas have offered to open their homes and provide clothing to their affected co-workers.

To enhance its delivery capabilities in the region, employees drove two of the New Orleans branch’s trucks to the Baton Rouge branch, and the company has been shipping materials into New Orleans since the day after the hurricane. The Graybar zone warehouse in Stafford, Texas, is shipping products to the Baton Rouge branch on a daily basis or as needed.

Due to flooding caused by the hurricane, WESCO Distribution Inc., Pittsburgh, has closed its Metairie, La., and Pascagoula, Miss., branches until further notice. The company is asking that customers serviced by its Metairie branch or new customers located in the Metairie area contact WESCO branches located in Baton Rouge or Lafayette, La.

Teche Electric Supply, Lafayette, La., reported that all of its branches were open as of Sept. 6, but that a lack of power, computers and water, especially in the Pascagoula location, were the biggest problems. At press time, the company was trying to verify if an employee had lost his home.

Four hours away in Nacogdoches, Texas, Elliott Electric was doing its part to help Hurricane victims. Bill Elliott, company president, said they were seeing thousands of refugees leaving the affected areas. “Every facility in the area that can house these people is being filled to capacity. We are completely filled with people that have nothing to go home to.”

Elliott Electric has set up a fund to match employees’ and customers’ contributions for Hurricane relief efforts. Many other companies in the electrical market also announced that they would match donations for the relief efforts.

Crescent Electric Supply Co., East Dubuque, Ill., was one of those companies, and recently announced that it would match up to the first $100,000 donated to the American Red Cross.

The availability of products, and the impact that any shortages may have on pricing is another concern. A notice on Crescent Electric’s Web site said it had already heard about price increases from two PVC manufacturers. The pricing alert said, “While it may be too early to tell of all the side effects that Hurricane Katrina caused, we do need to look at the impact it may play on PVC products. Both Cantex and Carlon have announced a substantial increase on PVC pipe effective mid-September. This will be followed by another and larger increase around Oct. 1.

“The PVC industry was already experiencing high demand before the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina. A major resin plant in Baton Rouge is not producing resin at this time. However, they are scheduled to come back on line today or tomorrow (Sept. 8 or Sept. 9). This represents about 30 percent of the United States resin production. With this news it is only expected that resin prices would jump considerably and they are. There is a 6 cents per pound increase going into effect Sept. 5, with another increase in place Oct. 1.

The announcement said that deliveries of PVC pipe from these plants are already being pushed out seven to 10 working days.

“Things can, and most likely will, get pretty challenging with PVC,” the announcement continued. “We know what happened with steel a year and a half ago and many were slow to believe it was really happening or going to happen at all. We are being given fair warning with this one. One can only hope pricing and deliveries don’t cripple us during what is the largest demand season for PVC pipe and fittings.”