Dealerships Cleaning Up After Hurricane Matthew

Many auto dealerships in areas of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas hammered by Hurricane Matthew last weekend remained without power and were in the cleanup stage on Wednesday this week, while other dealerships in the region were open and waiting for customers.

The storm began affecting Florida’s Atlantic coast last Thursday night. It advanced north along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas over the weekend before moving away from the U.S. coastline last Sunday. As Hurricane Matthew moved north, residents of Georgia and the Carolinas lost power when winds blew trees onto power lines and intense rainfall flooded low-lying areas.

Major ports in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina closed over the weekend as automakers tried to move vehicles waiting at the ports farther inland.

The hurricane resulted in the deaths of at least 21 people in the U.S., The New York Times reported. Lumberton, N.C., experienced dangerous flooding, with a portion of Interstate 95 in Lumberton remaining under water as of last Monday.

Lumberton Honda, along with most of the other dealerships in Lumberton, is on the city’s north side, which had power disrupted but avoided major flooding.

Lumberton Honda’s general manager, Kent Locklear, said power was restored to the dealership Tuesday at about 1 p.m.

Locklear said the store is open and his staff is mostly following online leads and setting appointments for later in the week.

Meanwhile, Lumberton Chevrolet-Buick-GMC remained closed and without power as of Wednesday morning. Bill Shotwell, vice president, said although the area near the store isn’t flooded, access to the dealership is difficult because of flooded roadways.

Shotwell is assessing water damage to his Cadillac store in Fayetteville, N.C. He said Fayetteville wasn’t hit as hard as Lumberton, and the Cadillac dealership has power and customers.
Owner Don Price of Lafayette Ford-Lincoln in Fayetteville said Hurricane Matthew was one of the worst storms he’s seen in the 52 years he’s lived in the city, but the state was prepared for it: “We were ready for this. It wasn’t a total surprise,” he said.

Price closed his store Friday evening and reopened Tuesday with limited staff. He said he returned to small amounts of damage — a fence and some signs had been blown over. He said he had spoken to other dealers in the area, who told him they had minor damage at their stores.

Price said that after the storm, beautiful weather returned.

“You know the storm is coming and you anticipate it and, when it comes, it’s harder than what you thought,” Price said. “Then, just at the snap of your fingers, it’s over and there’s blue skies.”

Along with Lumberton and Fayetteville, North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association President Bob Glaser said some of the hardest hit areas included Raleigh and Wilmington.

Glaser said he continues to reach out to dealerships for updates, as those in flood-prone areas had tried to move vehicles before the storm. He said the four hardest-hit cities have about 50 dealerships combined.

He said he has heard no reports of major damage to dealerships, so far, but that he wouldn’t know about major flood damage to inventory and stores for a while. He said his dealerships would work with manufacturers to replenish vehicle stock if there is a major loss: “We’ve been through this before,” he said.

David Harris, a spokesman for Hendrick Automotive Group, said the group’s 15 stores in Charleston and North Charleston, S.C., avoided major damage.

Bill Morie, president of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association, said he had been in contact with a few dealerships last weekend. The Georgia governor lifted evacuation orders on Sunday evening, Morie said, so people are still returning to their stores and homes. Morie said it’s too early to say how many dealerships may have been affected in Brunswick or Savannah, among the hardest-hit areas of the state.

So far, Morie said dealerships have told him about minor damage, such as wind blowing a dealership sign onto a car. But he said he has had no reports of major damage.

“A lot of them are ready to get back up and running as soon as they get power,” Morie said.

Jeff Raynor, the used car manager at Duval Ford in Jacksonville, Fla., said the four Duval stores in Jacksonville reopened on Saturday but ended up closing early because of a lack of customers.

Raynor said St. Johns County, where he lives, had power restored Sunday evening. He said there were still some fallen trees that needed to be cleared and people without power.

“The sun is shining in Florida and we’re ready to move on from Hurricane Matthew,” Raynor said.

Major automobile ports in Charleston, S.C.; Brunswick and Savannah, Ga.; and Jacksonville, Fla., were temporarily closed.

Toyota had about 2,000 vehicles at the Jacksonville port that it had to move farther inland to West Lake. A Toyota spokesman said there was no damage to the processing facility or the vehicles.

While Jacksonville and Charleston ports have resumed normal operations, the Georgia Port Authority said it was still working with U.S. Coast Guard to open the Savannah River. An update from the port authority said it expected the Savannah port to be operating by Tuesday of this week.

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