Alabama and other states nearby are trying to clear away debris that hampers transportation systems and to restore power to businesses and homes, following a devastating tornado outbreak this week that left more than 300 people dead.
Major freight transport systems were struggling to restore normal service, in a region with massive amounts of damage that not only hampered vehicle movement but left many people in the region injured or seeking shelter. Shipment activity also was curbed as some businesses were closed for days afterward, and access was restricted in many towns and damaged residential areas.
President Obama quickly dispatched Craig Fugate, his director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to Alabama on April 28. On April 27, Obama had issued a condolence message that also offered federal support as the severity of the storms was first starting to emerge. He formally declared the state a disaster area, which allows it to tap federal aid flows.
Those presidential disaster declarations can take weeks or months to come about after weather that inflicts lesser damage, but these storms were some of the worst in decades for the South. The city of Tuscaloosa, Ala., southwest of Birmingham, was particularly hard hit, but major tornado damage was also reported in many parts of the region.
Both the president and first lady Michelle Obama were going to Alabama April 29 to view the damage, and meet with Gov. Robert Bentley, local officials and affected families.
Besides the damage to structures and loss of life, the storms scrubbed hundreds of airline and cargo flights, closed numerous roads for a time, knocked down power lines and blacked out electricity service. For rail operations it left significant amounts of debris to be cleared away from tracks before trains could move through or reach normal activity levels, while the power outages could knock out signals until generators were deployed or normal power could be restored.
Some shippers will need time to recover. For instance, Alabama is a major poultry producer, and the estimated 200 chicken houses that were destroyed there are enough to affect the entire poultry industry in the short term.
Local reports said a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., was damaged and would be closed for several days, while a Toyota plant in Huntsville also closed after it lost power.
FedEx listed service interruptions for its various types of cargo service in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas. The overnight FedEx Express site in Tuscaloosa "sustained heavy damage," it said, as did a maintenance facility at the Birmingham airport. Other delays for its operations in the South stemmed from power outages to downed trees over roads to flooding.
Parcel delivery giant UPS on April 29 had a list of zip code delivery zones in Alabama and Arkansas where it was unable to make pickups or deliveries in the storms' aftermath. It reminded customers that the "package guarantee does not apply when transportation networks are disrupted."
CSX Transportation, which along with Norfolk Southern is one of the major railroads in that region, told customers on April 28 to expect up to 48 hours of delays as its teams clear debris and restore train service.