Southeast cane refineries, grain mills in path of Hurricane Matthew

by Ron Sterk
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Hurricane Matthew
The red-shaded area indicates the potential path of the center of Hurricane Matthew.
Photo: The Weather Channel

KANSAS CITY — Major sugar cane refineries in Florida and Georgia, and a flour mill and a rice mill in Florida were in the areas forecast to receive some of the most severe impact from Hurricane Matthew as it moves up the southeast coast the next couple of days. There also was concern about the Florida sugar cane crop, which is subject to rain and wind damage just as harvest was beginning.

Hurricane Matthew was expected to re-intensify and skirt the Florida coast as a category 4 hurricane Thursday night into Friday, then move up the East coast before turning east-southeast away from the coastal Carolinas and back into the Atlantic later on Sunday, according to The Weather Channel.

“Matthew’s eyewall is likely to rake a sizable swath of Florida’s east coast, and is probable to pass near enough to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina to bring hurricane conditions to those areas as well,” The Weather Channel said. “These may be the strongest winds experienced along the Florida east coast in decades.”

The Bay State Milling Co. flour mill in Indiantown, Fla., about 25 miles inland between the coast and Lake Okeechobee, suspended operations Wednesday evening and was expected to resume production Saturday, a company spokesman said, noting that it was hoped utility services would be up at that time.

Phones were not answered at The Sem-Chi Rice Products Corp. rice mill in Belle Glade, Fla., about 45 miles inland in the same vicinity as two Florida sugar refineries, but sources indicated it likely would be down for some period of time based on closures further inland.

The United Sugars Corp. refinery in Clewiston, Fla., about 65 miles inland from Florida’s east coast, also was shut down late Wednesday and was expected to reopen Saturday, a company source said. Harvesting of new crop sugar cane had begun a few days ago and obviously would come to a halt as well.

Another major sugar refinery in South Bay, Fla., east of Clewiston and only about 45 miles inland, also was expected to be closed, but company sources could not be reached for confirmation.

The Louis Dreyfus Commodities (Imperial Sugar) cane refinery in Savanna, Ga., was expected to go down Friday afternoon and reopen late Sunday or early Monday, a company spokesman said. Buyers in several cases were taking early delivery of sugar to guarantee supply during the disruption, and transportation already had been affected, the source said.

Trade sources said it was too early to determine if the storm would impact refined sugar prices, with cane sugar supplies already being somewhat tight due in part to increased demand because it is non-bioengineered. They stressed that impact on the Florida cane crop was a greater concern than possible damage to cane refineries.

Company sources stressed that timing of closings and openings was dependent upon the storm track, and they were remaining flexible.

The approximate timings of the most severe wind and surge impacts, coinciding with the nearest passage of the eyewall of Hurricane Matthew were: Thursday evening through early Friday for southeast Florida, Friday through Friday night for east-central and northeast Florida, Friday afternoon through Saturday morning for the Georgia coast, late Friday night through Saturday night for South Carolina and Saturday through early Sunday for southern North Carolina, according to The Weather Channel.

“The path of Hurricane Matthew will likely parallel at least a segment of the East coast, instead of making landfall,” The Weather Channel said. “This would lead to millions of people from Florida to the Carolinas potentially experiencing strong, damaging winds, heavy rain, coastal flooding and beach erosion instead of just one area receiving the full impact of a hurricane making landfall.” 
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