Using Experience To Deal With Natural Disasters

For many people in the Midwest, lessons learned during the flooding of 1993 are not easily forgotten. In that year of record-setting rain levels, many people were taken by surprise at how fast heavy rain could cause large, valuable items to simply float away. “Those like me who spent time in 1993 in a canoe with a rope rescuing tanks on the Kaw River are much more likely to avoid a situation like that again,” said Greg Noll, executive director of the Propane Marketers Association of Kansas (PMAK). “There is plenty of information on flood preparation available from PERC, but those in our industry who lost tanks and other equipment during heavy flooding are extra vigilant about preparing for keeping their assets from being washed away. Since 1993, they’ve had 26 years to plan.”

Professional advice on How To Prepare Propane Customers In the event of a natural disaster reports BPN-the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939  July 2019In March of 2019, flooding early in the month started to impact Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, according to Nebraska Propane Gas Association executive director Lynne Schuller. By March 18, the governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, declared a state of emergency and called the flood damage “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” The floodwaters resulting from the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers overflowing their levees affected the Greater Omaha area and many others. In Iowa, there were catastrophic problems as 30 levees failed south of Council Bluffs, flooding many towns and highways. As much as 15 feet of water closed Interstate 29 from Council Bluffs to the Missouri border with further damage all the way to St. Joseph, Mo. The interstate reopened in late May, but more communities in Missouri continued to be affected into June as cresting rivers threatened and breached levees across many counties in northern and central Missouri. By late May and early June, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were also facing challenges of flooding.
How to prepare propane marketers in the event there is a natural disaster such as flooding, tornado, earthquake, reports BPN the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
As initial flooding occurred in March, Ray Collins, propane safety director for Sapp Bros. Petroleum (Omaha, Neb.), went with a Federated Insurance representative to assess damage at his company’s many locations in Nebraska and Iowa. “Every location had problems to deal with. While some tanks had floated away in certain areas, others were just dealing with impassable roads. Getting to customers amid flooded roads has been a challenge,” Collins said. “We had to keep delivering propane as we still had cold weather after a warm spell following the flooding.” As for flooded and dislodged tanks, many were able to be reset. “We are working on getting tanks reset with all new regulators and new lines. The regulators can’t be salvaged as too much floating silt gets in the diaphragm,” Collins explained. “The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has done a good job of retrieving tanks. We were able to identify and retrieve 12 of our tanks that floated away.”

Nebraska association’s Schuller said EPA hired a St. Louis company to pick up tanks in Nebraska and Rawhide Chemoil agreed to collect the tanks. “It is good if retail propane companies know the serial number of their tanks or have their names on them. If they own the tanks, they can come get them,” said Jennifer Weiss, Rawhide Chemoil’s president. “We’ve been receiving cylinders as well as tanks. So far about 20 tanks have come to us. Most companies have done a good job of securing tanks to avoid having them wash away. We do have one with a concrete block attached that still got away. It is good to turn tanks off when flood waters are threatening and chain the tanks to a large tree.”

With the Arkansas River flooding, many residents in Fort Smith, Ark. could only access their homes by boat. Arkansas Propane Gas Association executive director Sherman Murray noted that only one bridge in Fort Smith across the river remained open. The rest were closed. “We did get an hours-of-service extension,” Murray said. “Bridges out in Fort Smith and Conway present challenges. For companies with only one storage facility, it is taking a while to get deliveries done. Fortunately, it is June and demand for propane is nowhere near where it is in the winter months.” In Kansas, PMAK’s Noll knew of no retailers affected at their plant or storage facility. “We’re in unchartered territory though with so many Corps of Engineers flood reservoirs having water that needs to be released,” Noll said. “We’ve still got rainfall exceeding the releasing.”
Tips For Propane companies should a Natural Disaster such as tornado, flooding, earthquake occur reports BPN july 2019
Mother Nature provided a double-dose of trouble in Missouri as both flooding and tornadoes hit the state simultaneously. The state capital, Jefferson City, is situated on the Missouri River, which was expected to threaten the historic flood levels of 1993. Missouri Propane Gas Association’s CEO Steve Ahrens noted that marketers have been taking steps to prepare for flooding but the tornadoes caused other problems.

“One local propane marketer, whose retail location is in the river bottoms, took the precaution to tie down tanks on the lot and move his operations to another office,” Ahrens said. “The company’s bobtails were positioned on higher ground. Then on May 22, a tornado tore through the community, inflicting severe damage in several areas. Taken in the storm were several box trucks that had been parked next to the relocated bobtails, but the marketer’s trucks were not damaged.”

Other tornadoes have hit throughout Missouri, causing disruptions ranging from trees felled on top of propane tanks, to tanks blown away by storm debris, to valves being sheared off a dispenser at a hardware store. Ahrens noted that at one time, 530 Missouri routes had been compromised by flooding while the office vehicle was damaged by windborne orange road-construction barrels. “While our marketers have gone through both floods and tornadoes before, we’re trying to support them in whatever way we can with both situations being present at the same time. We are encouraging everyone to evaluate each customer site carefully. It would be easy to move too quickly between emergencies and overlook dangers that are not immediately obvious.”
Tips on What Propane Gas companies need to do to Prepare in the event of a natural disaster such as tornado, flooding reports BPN july 2019
Ray-Carroll cooperative, with 10 propane locations in the northwest portion of Missouri, had some flooding near two of its locations as levees were breached. “We’re taking a lot of precautions, securing a lot of tanks, and we’ve raised the levees with sandbags. The Brunswick, Mo. plant was the first to have water shut off the access to the bulk plant and we’re prepared for challenges at more facilities,” said Paul Harris, fuel division manager at Ray-Carroll. Two more breaches occurred on June 1, one day after Harris spoke to BPN. “On June 1, the Levasy, Mo. levee failed and we went to secure tanks as quickly as possible,” said Ray-Carroll’s Dean McFatrich. “A levee break in Norborne, Mo. is also causing problems. We are dealing with numerous road closures and that makes getting anywhere difficult. Many small communities along the Missouri River basin are being threatened.”

Propane often plays a role in disaster relief. “Blue Rhino, a Ferrellgas brand, is pleased to be the exclusive propane provider for Operation BBQ Relief (OBR), a nonprofit that has been providing thousands of hot barbecue meals since the large Joplin, Mo. tornado eight years ago,” said Scott Brockelmeyer, Ferrellgas senior vice president, marketing and media relations.

In 2019, as of the end of May, Operation BBQ Relief served 1960 meals in Franklin and Alto, Texas, following a tornado; 3681 meals in Freeport, Ill., after a flood; and 15,830 meals in Fremont, Neb., following a flood. (Operation BBQ Relief was featured in BPN, Oct. 2017.)

On June 1, BPN joined Operation BBQ Relief as they deployed in Linwood, Kan. amid a large number of residents and volunteers doing cleanup after a tornado on May 28 did severe damage in the small town. Jon Orr, who led Operation BBQ Relief efforts at its first deployment in Joplin eight years ago, was leading the relief work in Linwood. “We had 500 for lunch today and expect more for dinner this evening,” Orr told BPN. “It’s always difficult to estimate how much food to prepare, but we’ve learned to adjust quickly over the years to meet the need.” — Pat Thornton

(Reprint: Butane-Propane News, July 2019)