When Hurricane Sandy hit Elizabeth, N.J., New England Motor Freight’s terminal yard filled with five feet of water. Fortunately, the storm surge didn’t flood the trucking company’s headquarters and terminal building and its tractor-trailers were safely parked on high ground, said Chief Operating Officer Tom Connery.
“We were lucky, we didn’t lose a single piece of equipment because we prepared and we planned ahead,” Connery said. That planning helped the less-than-truckload carrier get back in business quickly in the days following Hurricane Sandy, while the Port of New York and New Jersey and many customers and other motor carriers struggled to recover.
“The biggest issue was not our ability to operate, it was our customers’ ability to receive freight,” Connery said. “We had customers who couldn’t open” because they lacked power or suffered serious damage. “It was a minimum of five business days in New Jersey and Long Island before things really returned to normal,” he said.
Business is booming now at NEMF, Connery said, partly because of the demand for rebuilding and relief supplies. “We’re extremely busy right now,” he said shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday. “There’s going to be some uptick in the business related to rebuilding and construction. We do business with a lot of big home supply stores, and their volume ramped up dramatically over the past two weeks.”
This isn’t the first time a hurricane threatened NEMF. Last year, the carrier weathered Hurricane Irene, again moving its trucks to higher ground, and driving some equipment up onto its loading docks. Located at the corner of North Avenue East and McLester Street in Elizabeth, N.J., the company is close to Newark Bay and the APM and Maher Terminals facilities at the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal.
“I heard there were over 1,000 tractors lost in the port area,” Connery said. “We weren’t able to pick up containers at the port for the first four days after the storm. The port was completely closed because they had so much damage.”
When NEMF finally was able to pick up containers, it found many had been breached, spoiling a portion of the freight. “We’re unloading containers and finding the bottom foot of a given skid is wet,” Connery said. Port terminals are still clearing a major backlog of containers stranded by Hurricane Sandy, with the Port Newark Container Terminal open extended hours.
The so-called super storm vindicated NEMF’s decision to install generators at all of its terminals in the wake of prior hurricanes. “We’ve been adding them during the past few years in anticipation of this kind of event,” Connery said. When Sandy hit Oct. 29-30, NEMF closed five terminals in New Jersey and New York’s Long Island for a day. “It didn’t make any sense to have people out on the road,” the COO said.
At least four NEMF employees lost their homes, he said. The company is supporting ongoing relief efforts in the hardest hit areas of the New Jersey shore, Staten Island, N.Y., and Breezy Point and the Rockaways in Queens, N.Y.
“We just hauled half a trailer of dog food to a shelter on Staten Island, and are supporting a toy drive by a group of high schools,” Connery said. “We’ve been contacted by customers, employees and outside agencies looking for help” with transportation, he said. “We try to accommodate as many as possible.”