Floods, tornados, power outages hit mills

Posted on 29 April 2011

Deadly tornadoes swept across the southern United States late Wednesday, killing at least 280 people and leaving a path of destruction through one of the country's biggest steelmaking regions.

Deadly tornadoes swept across the southern United States late Wednesday, killing at least 280 people and leaving a path of destruction through one of the country's biggest steelmaking regions.

The storms and twisters cut raw material supplies and left some major U.S. steelmakers struggling with power outages.

Most plants suffered only minor damage or none at all, although one Alabama tube mill was devastated. Even mills that weren't impacted saw workers lose homes or, in at least one case, a family member to the storms.

Flooding on the Ohio River also has Brazil's Gerdau SA keeping an eye on its Calvert City, Ky., mill near the river.

Nucor Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Dan DiMicco told AMM that the Charlotte-based steelmaker had suffered minimal damage at its plants in Decatur and Tuscaloosa, Ala., but he cautioned that it was premature to make any firm statements because the company was still assessing the impact from the massive storm.

'The major issue from this storm for the steel plants will be power outages,' DiMicco said.

The storm and tornadoes crippled some utilities, including the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA said tornadoes and high winds had damaged much of its transmission system in Mississippi and northern Alabama.

For safety reasons, U.S. Steel Corp., Pittsburgh, idled all operations at its Fairfield, Ala., facilities Wednesday 'well in advance of the storm,' a company spokeswoman told AMM.

U.S. Steel resumed operations after the storm passed but 'will continue to monitor events in the area closely,' the spokeswoman said. 'We cannot predict any future impacts on our facilities as recovery efforts take place. While we did not sustain any significant asset or property damage at the Fairfield Works of Fairfield Tubular Operations, we are working closely with our employees to assess the storm's impact on them and their families.'

Severstal's Columbus, Miss., steelmaking operations were shut down because of power outages resulting from the storm, a company spokeswoman told AMM. The mill's backup power generators allowed for an orderly shutdown, but it's unclear when operations might resume, she said.

The mill will be back up as soon as power is restored, the spokeswoman said, though she conceded she did not know when that might be and that it was too early to say what the impact on customers might be.

None of Gerdau's operations had been impacted by the severe weather, a spokeswoman for the steelmaker said.

But while the tornadoes in the South may have spared the company, flooding on the Ohio River has Gerdau's Calvert City, Ky., mill eyeing water levels. Calvert City remains fully operational, but 'there is flooding in the area and we are closely watching flood levels,' the spokeswoman said. She said there is a contingency plan should the flooding continue, but did not elaborate.

Commercial Metals Co., Irving, Texas, has operations across the southern United States but did not suffer any major impact, a company spokeswoman said. 'We have experienced no damages at any of our locations in the area other than clean-up of some debris,' she said.

Not all companies were so lucky. Independence Tube Corp., Chicago, saw its Decatur, Ala., tube mill suffer 'substantial damage,' although there were no injuries, steel purchasing manager Patty Tassone.

Independence Tube is still trying to assess the situation in Decatur, which is not easy, she said. 'Communication is just very spotty down there because of the situation. Telephone lines, power lines, access is difficult. And because everyone is using a cell phone, it's difficult to get a signal for more than 90 seconds.'

Tassone said she had no estimate on when Decatur might resume operations, and Independence Tube plans to meet orders placed at the Decatur facility from its operations in Chicago and Marseille, Ill.

American Cast Iron Pipe Co., Birmingham, Ala., saw its property 'clipped' by a tornado, according to a company spokeswoman. 'Only minor structural damage. The biggest issue for us has been loss of power. We're continuing to assess damage and working to restore power to all areas of the plant,' she said.

No employees were injured, but the company is assessing the needs of employees and area residents impacted by the storm and providing assistance where possible, she added.

McWane Inc., Birmingham, Ala., said none of its facilities was damaged. The facilities of its McWane Pipe subsidiary had been idled for more than a year, a company spokeswoman told AMM, while subsidiaries M&H Valve and Union Foundry, Anniston, Ala., had not lost power and distribution had not been impacted.

But one veteran employee at M&H Valve lost his brother in the storm, she said.

Steel Manufacturers Association president Thomas Danjczek said that he had been in touch with SMA members, and that to his knowledge mills had not been affected. 'Unfortunately, several homes of our (member company) employees have been lost,' he said.

Raw material supplies were impacted by the storm, with Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., Cleveland, reporting that its Oak Grove Mine in Alabama suffered 'significant damage' as a result of the severe weather. The iron ore producer said Thursday that damage to the mine's preparation plant, its overland conveyor system and infrastructure across the state 'will impact future customer deliveries,' although it was too early to forecast the potential business impact.

Many steelmakers, especially in southern Alabama, said they escaped largely unscathed. ThyssenKrupp Steel USA LLC, Calvert, Ala., had not been impacted, and production and shipping was continuing, a company spokesman said.

SSAB North America Inc., which operates steel mills in Mobile, Ala., suffered no damage, and all operations were running normally, a company spokeswoman said.

Canada's Lakeside Steel Inc. is building a new pipe mill and finishing plant in Thomasville, Ala., but its facilities had not been impacted by the storm, company president and chief executive officer Ron Bedard told AMM.

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