"Our top priority in any emergency situation is to safeguard our own employees and their families. We are in the process of making sure everyone is safe," Roberta Steedman, communications manager for Pilkington North America in Toledo, Ohio, told glassBYTEs today.
"Our automotive glass replacement service centers in New Orleans and Mobile were in the heart of the storm's path. We have 12 employees in New Orleans and 10 in Mobile," she explained. "Our Mobile service center has sustained some damage to the doors and skylights at the facility, but is hopeful to be back in operation in a couple days. Although we haven't been able to confirm the condition of our New Orleans service center, it will likely be out of operation for some time as the city recovers."
Current news reports estimate that no one will be allowed back into New Orleans for 12 to 16 weeks. According to press accounts, across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, more than a million residents are without electricity. Officials estimate it could be weeks, if not months, before most evacuees will be able to return.
While there is a wide, and evolving, range of what the costs of the storm will be to insurers, a commonly quoted estimate from risk analysts of overall damage is $26 billion, which would make Hurricane Katrina the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history. Previously, Hurricane Andrew, which struck south of Miami in 1992, had been the most expensive natural disaster.
Commenting on the effect of the storm and the company's response, Steedman had this to say. "As you might expect, hurricanes generally result in an increase in demand for our glass products due to damage caused by flying debris and/or flooding. Our AGR business will see an immediate spike in demand. Pilkington will try to handle all requests for product in an expeditious manner to help relieve the stress and anxiety that those affected areas are already experiencing. To that end, inventory will be redeployed to the area, primarily to our Monroe and Alexandria, La. service centers, to assist in handling the increased demand."
On the building products side of the industry, Steedman pointed out that typically the insurance adjusters first need to inspect the storm damage. Next, the clean-up phase is completed and finally, the crews come in to repair the damage. "Typically, the lag can be anywhere from four weeks to three months on the residential side," she said. "Architectural repairs typically take longer-from two to four months, up to six months to a year-depending on how long the clean-up phase takes," she added.
Officials at PPG Industries Inc. concur that it will see a pickup in business for its automotive glass as well as its flat glass.
According to spokesman Jeff Worden, the glassmaking operations could see an increase in business for replacement windows for everything from bungalows to office towers. However, he points out, the company's expenses also may go up because of the effect that the storm had on gas and oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The company expects to spend more for the gas to fire its furnaces and fuel for its trucks.
Some glassBYTES suppliers reported having heard from employees at PPG's New Orleans Center that all its employees were safe, but that shipments to the center from outside vendors should stop until further notice.
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