WILMINGTON, N.C. — With the hum of fans and portable dehumidifiers audible in the background, John Allen of Hughes Bros. Inc. in Wilmington described the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which flooded his store and devastated many towns in North Carolina in mid September — "This town looks like a bomb went off."
Hurricane Florence made landfall on the North Carolina coast Sept. 14 and proceeded to drop record rainfall over the area, which in turn caused rivers to overflow their banks and flood surrounding communities.
One of Mr. Allen's two tire stores in Wilmington lost part of its roof during the storm and suffered water damage. The shop was closed for eight days as employees tried to dry out and clean up the facilities; the other store wasn't damaged but was closed for three days due to power outages.
Hughes Bros. was one of the unlucky dealerships in the hurricane's path. Several tire dealerships contacted by Tire Business reported minimal or no damage due to being located away from the flooding rivers or on high ground.
"It's such a mixed bag of which businesses got slammed and which did not," according to Reece Hester, executive director, North Carolina Tire Dealers Association, who also contacted various members to access the hurricane's impact.
Black's Tire Service, which operates more than 45 stores in North and South Carolina, said eight of its stores in North Carolina suffered structural damage during the storm and some were flooded.
"We were right in the path of the storm," Rick Benton, vice president of Black's Tire, said of the dealership's four stores in Wilmington, two in Jacksonville, north of Wilmington, and one each in New Bern and Lumberton.
"We're not even in flood zones," Mr. Benton said, noting that this storm was "absolutely worse" than the flooding from Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
Black's Tire, also a large wholesale distributor in the area, noted that many of its dealer customers avoided damage in the storm and flooding but were impacted by inaccessible roads.
"Everybody is open now. Getting around all the roads has been the biggest challenge," Mr. Benton said, noting that as of the first week of October, major highways still were closed in the Carolinas.
"We got over 30 inches of rain right here in Bladenboro," reported Reynold Hester, co-owner of Hester Tire Pros, Bladenboro, N.C.
"Fortunately, I'm a mile north of town. But downtown Bladenboro is devastation. All the stores around the stop-light area were like waist-deep in water. There are several businesses that had to relocate.
"It was a lot of water like we've never seen in this area. My dad, he is 87, he's lived here all his life, and he said he's never seen this much water at one time. Even when (Hurricane) Matthew came a couple years ago, it flooded uptown, but not like it did this time."
Mr. Hester said he shut down the store for about four days when the hurricane made landfall and knocked out power. Even after opening the following Monday, many surrounding roads were impassable due to flooding, so the store was servicing local customers.
"I've been through six or eight of them (hurricanes) since I've been here," Mr. Allen said. "This one was by far the worst. A lot of them come in, and they're moving and they move on out in half a day. But this one was just moving at three miles per hour, so it was just sitting here on top of us for three days. We got a long way to go to get back to normal."
In addition to drying out the indoors of the dealership, Mr. Allen said he has to worry about mold growing on the walls. Dehumidifiers pulled about 55 gallons of moisture out of his 400-sq.-ft. office area over the previous weekend, he said.
"We just had loss of shingles and some pouring rain into two of the service bays that were facing where the wind and rain was coming from. We lost a lot of shingles, but we were blessed in that we opened up on Monday morning with power, with Internet, with cable TV and telephone service. We didn't suffer very much at all," said Bill Baldree of Baldree's Tire & Service in New Bern.
Chadwick Tire Co. in Beaufort, N.C., didn't experience any damage, according to owner Chris Chadwick, even though there was flooding all around the area. The dealership shut for about 10 days due to lack of power and phone service; his home, however, suffered flooding and roof damage.
Several tire manufacturers and large tire chains contacted by Tire Business reported their facilities and stores survived the hurricane and subsequent flooding.
Triangle Tire USA Inc, which is building a pair of tire factories in Edgecombe County, N.C., reported that the heavy rains and flooding did not impact the site where hundreds of acres are being cleared by contractors. The company said the drainage at the site, which covers 1,449 acres, worked as designed and holding ponds there did not overflow.
Goodyear reported none of its facilities suffered any structural damage.
"All of our manufacturing facilities remained operational and customer service was unaffected," a Goodyear spokesman said Sept. 21.
"Our tire plant in Fayetteville, N.C., did run at reduced levels earlier this week (after the storm hit), however, to accommodate road closures and other conditions that affected associates," he added.
"Our retail stores in the Columbia/Lexington, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C., areas closed for approximately 24 hours as the worst of the storm blew through. Stores in those locations were not structurally impacted from the hurricane and were up and running as business as usual."
Ed's Tire & Auto Service, which has five stores in Fayetteville, said the only problem it had was disruption of business a few days before the hurricane and a few days after, then business was slow as customers focused on repairing their homes, according to owner Joe Quigg.