No one has ever accused Deborah De La Flor, AIFD, PFCI, of inaction, but last week, after realizing the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, she leaped into action with speed and determination that surprised even her longtime industry friends.
Days after the hurricane hit, De La Flor, of De La Flor Gardens in Cooper City, Florida, had collected badly needed donations — toiletries, water, diapers and much more — and, with the help of Southern Floral Company in Houston, delivered them to storm victims in need.
Her outreach started with a Facebook post — and not much else. “Truth be told, I didn’t have anything set up,” she said. “I just knew people needed help and we had to do it.” As soon as the post went up Susan Weatherford contacted De La Flor; Southern Floral could help with transportation if De La Flor could get the donations.
This week, De La Flor finds herself in a much different position, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, disrupting the industry supply chain and putting at risk growers, wholesalers, retailers and suppliers in its still uncertain path.
“Right now, we are preparing and trying to manage all of the unknowns,” said Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida. “Importers are working hard to get flowers into Miami so they can get them out to the customers.”
“The coming winds will determine when the flights have to stop arriving in Miami,” Boldt added on Wednesday morning. “Then, we also have the truck lines that make determinations of when then will stop accepting products to ship out of Miami. Miami companies want to make sure that their employees are not only safe in the work place but also have their homes and families secure so each company will do what is best for everyone.”
Steve Catando, purchasing manager for DV Flora, said the company has been preparing for the storm since Tuesday morning.
“There is significant concern about how this will affect us and the industry overall,” he said. “Miami is the single and major hub for our South American products. We are actively and aggressively making logistical changes and trying to advance our shipments now so that we have a good supply for our customers.”
Catando added at press time that it’s “very likely that Miami will be shut down from Friday to Tuesday.”
“Flights from South America will probably cease very soon as they are not going to send aircraft into the eye of a storm,” he explained. “There are going to be challenges with inbound flights, then challenges in Miami with regards to clearing, availability, and then outbound trucking. We are praying there will be no human or property devastation. Our priority will be our people first and assuring that our associates are all safe.”
Oscar Fernandez of Equiflor/Rio Roses said everyone in South Florida is “very concerned.”
“Some trucking companies have already canceled service on Friday,” said Fernandez, a member of the Society of American Florists’ Wholesalers Council. “We are urging all of our customers to take as many flowers as possible from their Friday through Monday orders. Regardless of where the hurricane ends up passing through, we are convinced there will be a disruption to the business.”
In Seville, Florida, Jana Register of FernTrust Inc. said the company is already dealing with changes to trucking routes — and hoping that the storm’s path shifts farther east.
“As our governor has stated we are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best,” said Register. FernTrust, a co-op made up of 13 family farms, suffered major damages last fall during Hurricane Matthew. “We spent the weekend and yesterday prepping the ferneries as best as we can and now we are working to get orders out to our customers before we ride out the storm.”
Register said her team is as prepared as they can be.
“We have generators on stand-by in case of power outages,” she said. “We are working to load the coolers with leatherleaf inventory as we anticipate damage to contend with next week. Our struggle last year was trying to use our labor force to make repairs and stay ahead of our cutting needs. Other items like treefern and plumosus won’t be cut ahead, as we want to make sure it has the longest vase life for our customers, and we really do not know when shipping options will return to normal next week if the hurricane causes major damage.”
The Society of American Florists has compiled a list of resources for florists who need to file an insurance claim after a hurricane.