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Logistics Chief Weighs In on Hurricane Ian’s Impact

Hurricane Ian’s destruction this week is what one logistics executive called a “once in 100 years, maybe even once in 1,000 years, hurricane for Florida” that will continue to cause delays throughout the supply chain for some time to come. 

Vaughn Moore, executive chair and ceo of AIT Worldwide Logistics, said his company’s offices in Miami, Orlando and Tampa continue to service shippers. The state’s hardest hit areas, such as Fort Myers, Naples and Sanibel Island, which saw the collapse of the Sanibel Causeway, saw much greater devastation that will take more time to bounce back from.

“People just have to understand there’s going to be a lot of disruption,” Moore said. “There are going to be delays much longer than a week. Now it’s just these Gulf Coast areas that are so affected that it’s going to take quite a while. We’re looking at months at a minimum for the Gulf Coast, Fort Myers, to return. In some cases, years for restaurants and stores to come back.” 

AIT, with global headquarters in Chicago, counts more than 100 offices around the world providing supply chain services in ocean, air, customs clearance, trucking, warehousing and intermodal transport

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The company, like many others, is putting together trucks to send items, such as disinfectant, soap, diapers, paper towels and toiletries to affected areas with no power.

Major parcel carriers are resuming service in some places, but delays continue to mire operations. 

UPS said it has contingency plans in place, with service for certain parts of Florida and South Carolina impacted. 

FedEx on Friday warned of “hazardous conditions” in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that are affecting shipping operations. 

USPS on Friday continued to reopen facilities in Florida that had been temporarily closed due to the storm.  

On the ocean side, Florida’s largest port, Port Tampa Bay, opened gates and roads back up to trucks and fuel terminals on Thursday. 

The Georgia Ports Authority said the ports of Savannah and Brunswick in Georgia were open Friday to trucks, with service for ships expected to resume Saturday morning in Savannah. 

“Existing freight that was left in those [affected] ports was compromised for sure,” Moore said. “Most people knew to be able to plan to not send their products into the ports that were going to be affected. Now, here’s the problem. If you went around the Gulf Coast and didn’t deliver into areas like Fort Myers and you’ve gone to the East Coast and the hurricane followed and you’re in Charlston or somewhere else, you’ve got to move those goods again. I’m hearing damage won’t be as severe in Charleston as in Fort Myers, but we’ll just have to see.” 

The hurricane’s path hit South Carolina as a Category 1 storm Friday afternoon after hitting Florida as a Category 4. Meanwhile, the logistics industry is once again bracing for impact. 

“[Shippers] should always have an end-to-end, long view of where their products are being manufactured and where their customers are domiciled by geography and make sure that you have all that in your whole model of forecasting because you have not only hurricane season but extreme weather—snow, tornados,” Moore said. “There are unusual circumstances that you have to plan for, but the one thing I would say, the logistics industry as a whole is extremely resilient and always figures out a way to be able to get goods delivered. That was shown during Covid and during numerous disasters around the world.” 

North Carolina’s ports of Wilmington and Morehead City were closed to vessel operations Friday, given the storm’s latest path. The South Carolina Ports Authority said Friday all marine terminals are closed. 

Rail operator CSX said it is monitoring the storm in South Carolina and raised the possibility of impacts to operations there as it works on clearing tracks and crossings in Florida and Georgia.

“This has a lasting, long-term impact. It’s forever changed people’s lives in the particular areas of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Naples,” Moore said. “It’s important to not get lost in getting right back to our normal, day-to-day issues as people are dealing with much larger problems—loss of home or, in some cases, loss of life.”