Gulf Coast dealers move to protect vehicles as Hurricane Isaac nears
Photo credit: Reuters
As Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast, some car dealers in flood-prone areas of Louisiana are moving their vehicles to safety.
The storm, which caused Republican National Convention organizers to cancel many of Monday's events in Tampa, Fla., has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane that forecasts from the U.S. National Hurricane Center showed coming ashore in the Mississippi Delta late today, possibly taking direct aim at New Orleans.
Isaac could bring 75 mph winds and a foot of rain, which may cause flooding that could damage vehicles.
Bob Israel, president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association in Baton Rouge, said in an interview today that flying debris carried by high winds can damage vehicles, but the biggest concern is flooding.
In the Metairie, a New Orleans suburb, dealers who remember the canals overflowing after Hurricane Katrina struck the area seven years ago Wednesday have moved select inventory to higher ground.
Practice makes perfect
But other local dealers are waiting out the storm and will be ready to sell vehicles again on Thursday morning.
Israel said he spoke with a dealer in the Slidell, La., area Monday who was moving vehicles to the parking lot of a nearby shopping center.
Slidell is in a low area on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, about 35 miles north of New Orleans.
"They actually did a rehearsal last Friday, so yesterday, when they started moving cars, it went very smoothly," Israel said. "That's an arrangement through their insurance company. I'm sure everybody that is in an area where the dealership itself is subject to flood tries to find a place to move their cars."
He recalled that during a past storm, a New Orleans area dealership arranged to move 100 vehicles to an indoor, multilevel parking garage.
In Clearwater, Fla., Lawrence Dimmitt, owner of Dimmitt Chevrolet, said his employees have assigned tasks in emergency situations.
An employee phone tree lets workers know if the dealership will be closed.
The dealership also has an employee tasked with turning off the natural gas and water and moving vehicles away from trees.
"We dodged this one. It just kind of grazed us and we only had [Monday] with some rain and wind," Dimmitt said. "Generally, Tampa is pretty lucky. I don't think we've had a major [hurricane] since the 1940s."
Outsmart the storm?
Israel said some dealers have tried unsuccessfully to "outsmart" hurricanes.
A "couple of hurricanes ago," Israel recalled, a dealer southwest of New Orleans in Houma, La., decided to move his most expensive inventory to the two barns at his farm.
But Mother Nature had other ideas, and the vehicles were crushed as destructive winds destroyed both barns.
Israel said: "He laughed and laughed about that."
Jamie LaReau and Reuters contributed to this report.
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