Storms damage plants
Gary Evans , Larry Thomas -- Furniture Today, May 19, 2011
TUPELO, Miss. — At least one furniture plant was destroyed and others were damaged in severe storms last week that hit northeast Mississippi and other Southern states, leaving a death toll of more than 200.
The storm, which included countless tornadoes, hop-scotched across a large swath that included Smithville, Miss., where damaging winds destroyed a plant belonging to upholstery maker Townhouse Furniture, where 160 people were employed.
Company executive Mark Dauler said that, except for 10 to 15 people remaining in the plant, workers were sent home early Wednesday and no one was injured. But Dauler said that at least one employee in a mobile home near the Townhouse facility was killed when the storm barreled through.
A day care center near the Townhouse plant also was leveled, although casualties were not immediately known.
Townhouse's facility "is a total loss. We're going to have to start all over somewhere," Dauler said. "We're in the process of trying to find another building right now."
He added that company had been in a rapid expansion mode for the past eight to 10 months and had purchased new equipment - which luckily was stored elsewhere and will be ready when a new facility is found.
Meanwhile, Dauler said that a company facility in Amory, Miss., which employs 120 people, continues to operate at full production and has been running at 60 hours a week since October.
Dauler said there is another plant in Amory with air lines installed and ready to go. "We can immediately put five lines into that plant, but we need those five lines because we've got so much new business." He said the company needs at least another 150,000-square-foot facility to handle its workload.
While damage was devastating in Smithville, it was less severe but still significant in Okolona, Miss., an enclave for upholstery plants. Promotional upholstery manufacturers Rose Hill and United sustained roof damage from hail and virtually every vehicle in each factory's parking lot was severely damaged or destroyed.
"We were about a mile north of the storms and had baseball- sized hail that actually came through our roof," said Rose Hill President Jim Byrd. "So naturally, we got the water damage too."
The hail was so furious that employees were trapped inside. "If it would hit you, it would be fatal," Byrd said. No one was injured at the plant.
Byrd said he didn't know yet if the whole roof or only a part of it would require replacement.
Doug Hamby, chief financial officer of United Furniture, said the roof on a plant in Okolona was damaged but that work would be diverted to plants in other locations. Because of grapefruit-sized hail, "every car in the parking lot basically had its glass broken out and almost no windshield survived. But everyone's safe," he added.
Chuck Tidwell, vice president of merchandising and product development at Franklin, said the company's factory in Houston, Miss., was spared by Wednesday's tornadoes, but the 1,200 employees were sent to designated "safe areas" when the town's tornado sirens were sounded at about 2:15 p.m.
"There was a lot of damage in this area, but we were very fortunate," Tidwell said. "We kept people in the safe rooms for about two hours because we didn't feel it was safe to let them go home."
As the storm system moved east, it caused heavy damage in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. The Jackson Furniture plant in nearby Cleveland, Tenn., sustained minor roof damage Wednesday but was operating normally the next day.
"All of the weather people were saying it was a really bad storm system headed this way, so we sent everybody home about two o'clock before it got here," said Don Hunter, senior vice president of major accounts at Jackson's Catnapper division.