Auto logistics operators brace for Hurricane Irma

on Sep9

The Port of Brunswick also is ranked in the top three for auto volume, with a heavy concentration on imports.

WASHINGTON — Auto distributors and ports in the Southeast are scrambling to prepare for Hurricane Irma, a devastating storm that is forecast to directly hit South Florida on Sunday and move into Georgia by Monday.

The region is home to two of the nation’s largest auto ports — Jacksonville, Fla., and Brunswick, Ga. The Port of Charleston, in South Carolina, is also expected to experience storm conditions.

Earlier Friday, the ports were working to secure equipment and get cargo vessels out to sea where they will be safer.

The Port of Jacksonville handled 652,000 vehicles in 2016, with Volkswagen and Toyota being large users. Fourteen ocean carriers with auto service call the port.

The port closed at noon Friday and administrative offices will remain shut through Monday, the port authority said in a bulletin.

The Port of Brunswick also is ranked in the top three for auto volume, with a heavy concentration on imports. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Volvo are among automakers that ship vehicles through the port.

The Georgia Ports Authority said operations at Brunswick will cease Saturday through Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Port of Charleston, which is a large gateway for BMW exports and imports of containerized parts for the automaker’s plant in Spartanburg, S.C., plans to remain open.

“Based on current projections, the conditions in Charleston are expected to allow safe operations. Normal gate hours and vessel operations will continue,” the South Carolina Ports Authority said in an advisory Friday afternoon.

Toyota distributors and dealers in the path of the storm have suspended deliveries of new vehicles and parts, and are moving vehicles at their facilities to sheltered areas where possible, Toyota spokesperson Amanda Roark said via email.

The manufacturer’s logistics team is maintaining close communication with its distribution network to assess any damage and needs as the storm moves through, and some dealers in Florida and Georgia will close Saturday and Sunday, she added.

Volkswagen Group of America shut down both its Jacksonville port and parts distribution center operations at midday Friday. Personnel will return early next week to assess the facilities and determine what it takes to resume business, spokesman Mike Tolbert said.

Railroads that serve the ports say they are working ahead of the storm to minimize the impact of any potential shipping delays.

The Florida East Coast Railway, which hauls autos and other freight along the entire length of Florida’s east coast and interlines with the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads in Jacksonville, ceased operations Friday and is no longer accepting cargo at its terminals.

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