Louisiana Mills Endure Hurricane Laura

The first major hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Laura, made landfall at peak intensity in Cameron, La. on August 27. The storm was the 10th-strongest U.S. hurricane to make landfall by windspeed on record. The storm caused the deaths of at least 36 people in the U.S. (71 overall). As a Category 4 hurricane, Laura tied the 1856 Last Island hurricane as the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in Louisiana. While most of the severe damage was in south Louisiana, farther inland, loggers and mills had troubles with downed power lines, split and cracked trees and no access to supplies. In most affected areas, power was out for an average of five days. Some areas were still without power in mid-September as storm surge and rain knocked grids completely off.

Loggers across north Louisiana were quick to respond to community needs according to Louisiana Loggers Assn. Executive Director Toni McManus McAllister, adding that in many places across the state, loggers were the first to respond and jump out to help and clear roads and houses of debris; things were tough, she says, but notes how resourceful loggers are by nature and therefore how resourceful their communities are even under extraordinary conditions. The storm inflicted an estimated $10 billion in damages along the Louisiana-Texas border near the Gulf of Mexico and northward.

Annmarie Sartor, communications officer with Drax Biomass, says she grew up in south Louisiana and never imagined a hurricane would do so much damage this far north. The home to Drax’s headquarters, the city of Monroe, didn’t fare well in terms of wind damage and numerous old oaks littered the streets. While Sartor says she was surprised by the damage, each of Drax’s production facilities at LaSalle and Morehouse, La. were idled as a precautionary measure; however they are now back up and running once power was restored to the area. Drax’s Amite BioEnergy plant in Gloster, Miss., remained operational throughout the downtime associated with Hurricane Laura, as it was not affected by the storm.

Sawmill LaSalle Lumber, located next to Drax’s LaSalle facility, did not suffer any physical damage, President Richie LeBlanc reports, addding that unfortunately some employees had minor damage to their homes, but most importantly all were safe through the storm. LaSalle’s ownership group includes Hunt Forest Products, which operates a plywood facility in Pollock, La. LeBlanc says the hurricane crippled the power grids and both Pollock Plywood and LaSalle Lumber lost production time as a result. “Bottom line is we were very fortunate,” he says.

Following the direction of other Louisiana mills, RoyOMartin stopped production at three facilities 12 hours before Laura moved ashore. Terry Secrest, vice president of manufacturing and product sales, says the move was to protect employees, sending them home to be safe with their families. “The storm devastated much of southwest Louisiana and impacted our two Louisiana manufacturing facilities: our Oakdale OSB plant and Chopin plywood and timber mill. Both plants had some minor wind damage, but overall, they fared well. The largest impact was the loss of power for about five days,” Secrest continues.

RoyOMartin’s large OSB facility in Corrigan, Tex. was not impacted and restarted the next day. No RoyOMartin employees or their families were harmed.

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