Global Fastener News

1998 FIN – Ice Storms Suspend Infasco Production for a Month

June 18
00:00 2009

1998 FIN – Ice Storms Suspend Infasco Production for a Month

February 13, 1998 FIN – The first of three ice storms and unprecedented freezing rains in four days struck the southeastern portion of the province of Quebec the night of January 5, 1998.
By 10:30 the next morning the weight of the ice on power lines took its toll on Infasco as the electricity went out.

Meteorologists say that such severe and protracted weather conditions with that much moisture can happen once every hundred years.

It was nearly a month before Infasco was producing fasteners at its Marieville, Quebec, facility.

The ice storm took down 24,000 utility poles and more than 1,000 transmission towers.
Infasco was in the area worst hit – the blackout gave the Monteregie area southeast of Montreal the title “the Black Triangle.”

“The first week’s conditions were so bad that people were just trying to fend for their families,” Infasco vice president Mortie Chaikelson recalled.
“People had to make adjustments. They had to take care of their young children and elderly.”
Chaikelson was among the luckier ones. His home in Montreal was without power for only four days.
But assistant sales manager Jean-Luc Pare and most others employees were without power for three weeks. Assistant general manager Joseph Bahadrian had no electricity for a month.

People used wood burning stoves, kerosene heaters and small generators for heat in their homes and to cook food.
Fallen trees and power lines made Quebec “really resemble a battle zone without the bullets,” Chaikelson recalled. “Only when you saw how much ice was on the trees and poles could you understand why trees fell and split and why utility poles and transmission towers toppled.”

A large generator arrived by Monday, January 12 and during the next few days the office was reheated, the computer system was powered up and Infasco management met to determine how to communicate with employees, customers and suppliers.
By Friday, January 16 the packing and shipping departments were operating, and within days shipments from its inventory had increased to satisfying figures, Chaikelson reported.
“You can’t just go back in and turn everything on,” Chaikelson explained.

“One of the first problems was to find our employees,” Chaikelson told FIN.
Many telephones were still out, and many employees had driven their families many miles away or were staying with relatives or friends or nearby community shelters.
Infasco worked with the surrounding municipalities to improve conditions for its employees. Schools were closed all month, so Infasco helped reopen a daycare center. Employees were provided free meals at Infasco’s cafeteria and the opportunity for a hot shower.
Employees were permitted to leave at 4 p.m. so they could get home or to their temporary lodgings before dark and to tend to the difficulties of making supper, getting firewood and taking care of their families.

After structural engineers examined the roof of the 750,000sq ft facility to determine safety, employees went up with chain saws to begin removing the eight inches of ice to prevent roof damage.
The Canadian military and power crews from other provinces and several states across the border worked 16 hours a day for three weeks removing fallen trees, installing new utility poles and restoring power.
French-speaking residents said thank you by serving hot soup and coffee to the English-speaking crews from across the border.

Chaikelson said Infasco customers will find little interruption in supply.
Infasco has long had a policy of carrying a large inventory at warehouses.
As a result of its recent acquisition of the 250,000 sq ft warehouse network of J. Hammer & Associates Ltd. and Distributor Sales Inc. in Atlanta, GA; Mentor, OH; and Elk Grove Village, IL Infasco had already increased its stock of bolts and nuts in those locations.

Personnel at the warehouse locations called all customers when Infasco’s offices were not yet operating normally to keep them informed.
“The American news media were reporting the ice storm in great detail, so customers already knew what had happened,” Chaikelson said. “Without exception, all customers were extremely sympathetic and patient. Many customers and friends in the industry offered help.”

Infasco’s sister company had opened the Vermont Fasteners Manufacturing plant last summer in Swanton, VT, and production of structural bolts was increased there.
Infasco’s Marieville plant is now operating all machines around the clock to replenish warehouse stocks of its bolt and nut product line.

The good news is that with no more precipitation in the past two weeks much of the province is getting back to normal.
“It was not a pretty sight,” Chaikelson said. “But we are enjoying enormous improvement over the last few weeks.” ©1998/2009 Fastener Industry News.
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