High weather drama continued this week, as Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, cutting a wide path of destruction but also sparing some areas that had been bracing for harder hits.
Floral industry members from South Florida to South Carolina have checked in with the Society of American Florists and EBrief editors, sharing stories of frustration, product loss and facility damage, power outages, flooding, disrupted supply chains — and also, big sighs of relief.
“We are recovering,” said Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida. “It could have been a lot worse.” As of Tuesday, Boldt added, “Flights are arriving at the airport, the importers are open for business and the truck lines are starting today to haul flowers again.”
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts are ongoing for victims of Hurricane Harvey. “Texas State Florists’ Association and the AIFD Foundation continue to receive donations for the Hurricane Harvey Florist Fund,” said Dianna Nordman, AAF, executive director of TSFA. “The Hurricane Harvey Florist Fund Grant Application will be online at aifdfoundation.org by Sept. 15.”
Back to Work After Irma
Recovery work — for industry members both in Florida and Texas — is in its early stages, and the damage for some this week has been significant. The Department of Homeland Security estimated yesterday that some 15 million Floridians are currently without power. Hurricane Irma is responsible for least 15 deaths in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to official estimates. Overall, the storm took 47 lives in the Caribbean and the U.S.
Industry members across segments said returning to normal will take time.
Corey Doel of Prime Floral LLC, headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, said the transportation company was busy managing the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, “but we are glad to report that our facilities [in Miami] sustained no major damage, and we are resuming our normal shipping schedules on Wednesday, September 13.”
Other companies, including Armellini Express Lines and Florida Beauty, also have returned or plan to return soon to shipping schedules. As David Armellini noted, however, trucking companies are dependent on flights coming into Miami International, which only recently re-opened.
“We’re back to normal as of today, or at least, as normal as we can be right now,” said Armellini, president of Armellini Industries Inc. in Palm City, Florida. The company is working closely with employees who have themselves been affected by the storm.
In Seville, Florida — about 40 miles west of Daytona Beach — Jana Register of FernTrust Inc., a co-op made up of 13 family farms, said initial reports from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences indicate “there is up to 70 percent damage in the cut foliage industry.”
“Recovery and repair began today with our FernTrust ferneries,” she said Tuesday. “We are trying to juggle available labor between harvesting and repair. We still have staff that has not been able to return home from evacuation and fuel is still not available in our area which definitively complicates things.”
Oscar Fernandez of Equiflor/Rio Roses in Miami reported a “crazy” day at the office Tuesday, but also some positive news.
“Even though we lost power here at the office we have a generator so our coolers were never down,” he said. “My family and I fared well, we still have no power at the house. The streets are a mess with fallen trees and debris everywhere. Luckily there was no real structural damage anywhere. If the eye of the hurricane would have hit us dead on it would have been really bad so we’re thankful that it didn’t.”
Wholesalers also are taking stock.
“Companies are now getting back into the buildings slowly and people are somewhat getting back to work,” said Steve Catando, purchasing manager at DV Flora, on Tuesday. “Inbound flights will resume soon with some charters. It’s still going to be a slow road to meet demand because we need people and labor to process, handle, and clear our shipments. I see good things happening but it’s slow progress. There will be limitations in the market for early next week.”
According to Joe Barnes, Kennicott/Nordlie issued the following update in part to its customers: “Our partners in the industry are working hard to get back online as quickly as possible. The Miami airport is starting operations and we are working towards flowers and flights resuming soon. Our staff is doing everything we can to fulfill and answer questions about upcoming orders. Power lines are down. Trees and flooded roads are in the way of our suppliers assessing the damages. Greens and plant suppliers are facing rebuilding again after Irma and Matthew have damaged many areas. We will continue to push for getting product moving as quickly as possible.”
Other updates from SAF members:
Disappointment in Miami Beach
Chaim Casper of Surf Florist Inc. in Miami Beach lost power at both of his shops early Sunday morning—but customers seemed to stop calling far before that. (“My phone hasn’t rung since last Wednesday, September 6,” he explained.) As of Tuesday, Casper was relying on his cell phone to communicate and worried about finding an open gas station.
“My suppliers have all told me not to expect any flowers until Thursday at the earliest,” he said. “Next week is Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year, which is my third busiest day of the year. A lot of people flew up north to avoid [the hurricane]. I suspect they will stay up north and spend the holiday with family there and not return until after the holiday. I am predicting at least a 20 percent drop, if not more, in sales over last year [for the holiday].”
Based on his experiences with Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, and Wilma, in 2005, Casper is bracing for a prolonged period without power.
Relief and Gratitude in Tampa
Meanwhile, Zoë Gallina of Botanica International Design Studio in Tampa said she and her team were feeling relieved.
“We had zero damage at our studio,” she said. “My husband and I don’t have power at home and we have some downed tree branches, so that’s the worst of it there.” Three events canceled because of the storm, including one wedding.
“We’re working with all of our clients as best we can,” she said. “We were able to use all of the flowers from the events to make arrangements and deliver them to staff at the local hospitals, the police and fire station so that the blooms didn’t go to waste and we were able to thank the people that didn’t have the option to evacuate.”
Flooding in North Florida and Charleston
North Florida, including the Jacksonville area, saw historic flooding from the storm. Lisa Carmichael, vice president of 1-800-Flowers.com/BloomNet, reported good news from the company’s office there.
“We are incredibly fortunate that all of our BloomNet/Napco team members are safe and accounted for and that our Jacksonville Home Office & Napco Showroom/Warehouse was not damaged by Hurricane Irma,” she said.
Amber Marvin of Island Flower and Garden in Amelia Island, Florida, had a similarly positive outcome. “Our shop made it through, and [we have] just a lot of clean-up,” she said on Tuesday. “We have a wedding this weekend, but so far all my orders have been canceled because they can’t ship.” (Marvin was still managing that situation and strategizing at press time.)
Manny Gonzales of Tiger Lily in Charleston reported his shop had minor rain intrusion and some tech issues.
“When we rebooted computers three of five crashed, including our Teleflora server,” he said early Wednesday. “Hopefully, we’ll be back up today. Fingers crossed.”
National Companies Reach Out
National companies in the industry also are working to support their member florists. (Please note, due to EBrief’s deadline, and the timeline of the hurricane, editors will be updating this information throughout the week and on SAF’s website.)
So far, we’ve heard from the following groups:
BloomNet/Napco took a proactive approach after Harvey, supporting the Hurricane Harvey Florist Fund and matching donations from BloomNet florists. “BloomNet formed dedicated phone and in-person field Hurricane Relief Teams who are in daily contact with our BloomNet florists in the impacted areas,” Carmichael said. The company also hosted a “Hurricane Harvey Relief Bake Sale and raised hundreds of dollars that were also matched by BloomNet,” according to Carmichael. The company is encouraging affected florists to reach out to BloomNet Customer Service, firstname.lastname@example.org.
BloomNation Farbod Shoraka, co-founder and CEO of BloomNation, said last week that his company “has reached out to florists in affected areas [in Texas] to help them manage their business. We will be keeping our eyes on the situation to see if there are ways for us to help further.”
FTD has set up two email addresses for florists in need of help: HarveyRelief@FTDi.com and IrmaRelief@ftdi.com. The company also has committed a donation to the Hurricane Harvey Florist Fund and helped to promote that effort. “FTD will be approaching those impacted by Irma the same way we approached our customers in Harvey,” said Emily Bucholz, marketing communications director, noting that many FTD members in affected areas are still without power. “We will be reaching out to shops and also ask them to contact their local field rep or send an email to IrmaRelief@ftdi.com.”
Lovingly, formerly UFN, “has been in contact with various partners in the states of Florida, Georgia, and city of Houston,” according to the company. The company has offered some hard-hit shops in Houston a grace period on company fees and is supporting employees out of its Florida office. “You can’t help but feel inspired by that kind of spirit,” said co-founder and managing partner, Joe Vega.