In the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, we've come to understand just how much will have to be done to recover from the storm and its aftermath.
The terrible loss of lives and the enormous numbers made homeless certainly overshadow the physical damage, but that hasn't stopped people from digging right in to begin the long process of rebuilding what was battered, broken or completely destroyed.
Even though I've been writing about the trucking industry for over 20 years, I've been surprised and enormously impressed by just how quickly it rushed to aid those who needed relief and at the same time to restore its essential services to the Gulf Coast region. Without waiting for government direction, trucks with supplies were moving into the area as soon as the storm had passed. And once a government reaction was finally organized, it was trucks and their drivers that lined up to move the water, the ice, the food, the medical goods and everything else needed in huge quantities over a three-state area.
Beyond the immediate humanitarian response lays the recovery, in this case a long, expensive effort to rebuild. It's not just homes that need to be reconstructed, but in many places the basic infrastructure of roads, sewers and utility lines will also have to be repaired or completely replaced.
It's a chicken-or-egg situation: Rebuilding can't get under way in any significant form until the local businesses needed to support it are able to open their doors again. And those businesses can't reopen until there's an infrastructure in place to allow that.
Trucking operations are the key here, which is why the rapid restoration of service by so many fleets in the Gulf has been so impressive.
Saia is one we've written about a good deal, in part because it has deep roots in Louisiana and the surrounding area. Within a week, it had pulled its freight and trucks out of four terminals shut by the hurricane and set up a work-around using nearby terminals to handle freight. In two weeks, the regional carrier had repaired its major New Orleans facility and was providing service from the only functioning LTL terminal in the city as area businesses got back up and running again.
But Saia was just one of many fleets attempting to serve customers as best they can under difficult circumstances that include heavily damaged highways and bridges, lack of functioning fueling sites, debris choked secondary roads and general uncertainty. And outside the affected area, fleets have been able to keep the freight network functioning smoothly despite the widespread disruption to such a central hub of transportation services. Recovery in the Gulf Coast is able to get under way because the transportation component is functioning, thanks to their efforts.
Trucking's flexibility has once again proven to be its most valuable characteristic. It quickly reacts to any roadblock or obstacle, flowing around it with little interruption, and can recover from a disaster of Katrina's magnitude with just the smallest opening of opportunity.