In General: The Waccamaw river, which runs between our two larger facilities in the area, is now three feet higher than the record set in 1999 with Hurricane Floyd. Almost 70,000 cubic feet per second are flowing through a river system that customarily handles 5,000 cf/s. It is projected to rise another 2-4' before flood waters crest and begin to recede.
550 Hwy 9: HQ, Smokingpipes & LDG: This is the building we've managed to keep open for the shipping department, as well as bits of merchandizing and marketing. Presently, Customer Service is being run from nearby Conway, SC, most of Marketing is being done from home, and Operations (finance, HR, etc) has moved to some empty offices we have above Low Country Pipe & Cigar in Little River, SC. So we're all pretty spread out, but through the magic of technology, it's all working fairly well. Given the inaccessibility of the building (most roads in the area are closed in various spots), we've only been trying to keep the facility open for work that requires physical presence.
To offer some indication of what it's like here right now, the flood waters are a few hundred feet from the building as of this writing. The building itself sits about 8' above the present flood level, so we're not worried about it flooding, but it is bad all around us. Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters have been circling the building for two days, running search and rescue operations in the neighborhoods across the highway from us. SC state troopers and the occasional SC National Guard team are parked out front of the building. One of the entrances to our facility is closed. We're at the pointy end of accessibility towards the flood area. You can see the building marked on the map; we're in a little pocket of high ground almost surrounded by flood. We hired a surveying team yesterday to definitively confirm that the building was safe, figuring that was better than us just guessing, this stuff being well outside of our areas of expertise.
We still have one entrance to the building ("guarded" by state patrol; we've all become buddies out at this edge of the flood) from an open road, but getting to that road is now really tough for most of the staff. We hope to be able to continue to get to the building throughout the period of flooding, but as water rises, fewer and fewer people are able to make it there. Fortunately, USPS and UPS have continued to be able to get to us (though it did take some brow-beating in UPS's case, as their route to us is particularly challenging). We hope that will continue through until water recedes, but it remains to be seen.
1410 Hwy 9: Cornell & Diehl and Storage:
The situation here is worse. This building sits lower. We didn't worry unduly about flooding when we leased it and moved in at the beginning of this year because it didn't flood with Hurricane Matthew in 2016 or Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the two worst events on record (the National Weather Service's measurements of the Waccamaw in Longs go back to about 1950). It was totally cut off from land as of Wednesday morning. Of course, this is already three feet worse than Floyd and projected to worsen still. As of this writing, water is roughly at the same level as the top of the concrete slab on which that building sits.
On Wednesday, when it became clear that the building would be cut off--keep in mind that no one really had any idea what this flooding would look like before then--we explored various options to get there and make sure that all inventory and water-sensitive equipment was off the floor. Ultimately, we gathered up some boats and started trying to get folks in there. Chris Formo and Rob Murphy of Cornell & Diehl were the first ones in. We had permission from Horry County (actually, they were helping us), but when the state took over and implemented an Emergency Operations Command for the area, they shut down our little boating adventure. We have a great relationship with the county government; to the state, we're just another company in the disaster area. They let Rob and Chris stay since they were already at the building, but forbid us to send in others.
But, thankfully, we still had our mini team of tobacco commandos--Chris and Rob--in the building for a few hours. They were able to get tobacco up on pallet racking, giving us another 18" before we faced any further damage to product. Keep in mind that, like all tobacco factories, we tend to stack 440lb boxes (c48 tobacco boxes are the industry standard) on the floor because it's just easier and less space intensive than pallet racking to stack them four or five high. Pallet racking gets used for other things like pallets of empty tins. Accordingly, we had a lot of tobacco sitting in boxes on the floor. I'm still not entirely sure how they managed it, but manage it they did. Water was rising while they were there, which forced them out after a couple of hours. Keep in mind that the current in the water is variable and, since this is a flooded area, depth is variable. It's not the best place to be tooling about in a small boat.
As of this writing, we have power in the building, which is key. Hot and humid is bad for unprocessed tobacco, so if we can keep temperatures reasonable and we only have a few inches of water in the building, we should be up and running fairly quickly after water recedes. Aside from the tobacco, there's not much to damage in there; C&D is pretty simple from a building standpoint: concrete floors and equipment that sits on tables or giant iron or steel frames, well clear of water.
The People: With a small handful of exceptions, we've all weathered this relatively unscathed. Everyone is safe, though a few have had serious property damage, from falling trees, flooding or electrical fires caused by the storm. Out of eighty-five of us in the region, four are facing serious challenges.
But this has been a challenge for all of us. People like Matt Johnson, Kyler Lambeth, Crystal Harrelson and Nikki Monroe have been at the building every day, for very long days, plus long commutes, seven days a week for a couple of weeks now to keep shipping operational. Dan Grosick kept basic IT systems up and running. Chip Kushner, Shane Ireland and the entire Smokingpipes Customer Service team worked from Conway in the midst of the worst of the storm. And Ted Swearingen, Lisa Mogel, Julie Cippon and Tracy Berry have been doing their best to glue it all together, coordinating with the county, directing traffic (in some cases literally), and trying to keep the company up and running by whatever means we have at hand.
I am tremendously proud of all of these folks and the rest of the South Carolina based team. I thank all of them. And I thank all of you, our customers, suppliers, and industry friends, who have understood as we contend with this and been so kind in sending your thoughts and best wishes.