Automotive retailers on the Gulf Coast closed their operations and braced for Hurricane Laura, which blasted Lake Charles, La., on Thursday with winds of about 150 mph, The Weather Channel reported.
Several coastal cities and towns evacuated on Wednesday as the storm approached. The Louisiana National Guard was called out. As of early Thursday, the storm was moving inland still packing sustained winds of 110 mph. The storm surge from the hurricane could reach 40 miles inland, The Weather Channel said.
On Wednesday, Houston-based Group 1 Automotive Inc. said it closed its six stores in the Beaumont, Texas, area and “evacuated as instructed” ahead of Hurricane Laura’s expected landfall on the Gulf Coast.
CarMax said in an email it is closing its locations in Lafayette and Shreveport, La., so it has "time to take necessary precautions.” The used-vehicle retailer said it also plans to close some of its Texas locations early Wednesday evening in response to local guidance. The company will reassess the status of the Texas stores Thursday morning.
Dealer associations in the affected states said that several members opted to close their doors as early as Monday.
Darren Whitehurst, president of Texas Automobile Dealer Association, said his members "are doing what they’ve done for every other hurricane that has hit the Texas coast.”
“They are getting ready, protecting inventory and locking down trying to make sure they are as ready as they possibly can be,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Louisiana dealers are "hoping for the best but expecting the worst," Will Green, president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association, told Automotive News.
"It's one of the realities of southern Louisiana — you have to be good at hurricane preparedness."
Sheltering at the store
Louisiana dealer Phillip Tarver said he would hunker down in his Lake Charles dealership waiting for Hurricane Laura.
He said he was hosting nearly 30 people at the dealership Wednesday night.
Tarver offered the dealership as a safe place to stay for employees and friends that live in mobile homes or low-lying areas.
“We are in a good location for flood and storm surge,” he said.
In preparation of the storm Tarver stacked up the cars on his lot but opted not to bring them inside.
He said that staying at the dealership is not only safe but allows for quicker recovery and clean up once the storm is over.
“Now we endure the storm for 24 hours and see what kind of damage there is a recover and pick up from there," he said. "That’s how we do it in Louisiana.”
Better 'safe than sorry'
Texas dealer Mitchell Dale closed his Ford store Wednesday located between Houston and Gavelston.The dealership will remain closed through Thursday so his employees and their families can prepare and evacuate the area.
Dale told Automotive News he would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to hurricane preparation.
“Even if we just have to move everything back and we have no interruption, it was worth it to make sure our employees know we are concerned about their safety and that we’ve prepared in case we did get the worst,” he said.
Dealership employees moved 200 vehicles to higher ground in anticipation of flooding and storm surges.
Dale also is evacuating the area with plans to return to the dealership Thursday afternoon in hopes to reopen Friday morning.