SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, has forced Ardent Mills to temporarily shut down its flour mill in San Juan, according to a statement released by the company Sept. 21.
The death toll from the storm was 17 as of Thursday afternoon, but Puerto Rican officials feared that total would rise as authorities were just beginning to assess the damage and search for survivors on the island. High winds and flooding demolished many structures and knocked out all electricity, and officials estimated it could be several months before power is restored to the 3.5 million people who live there.
Ardent Mills said it closed its Molinos de Puerto Rico flour mill on Sept. 19 in advance of the hurricane, which struck the island on Sept. 20. Employees at the mill had been preparing for the possibility of a shutdown for a few days, having just dealt with the more limited impact of Hurricane Irma, which crossed Puerto Rico two weeks earlier.
“Our Puerto Rico team members took all necessary precautions to secure property to mitigate the potential for flying debris and the intrusion of water prior to the onset of Hurricane Maria,” Ardent Mills said in a statement. “Immediately following the passage of the storm, plant leaders began outreach to team members. So far, those team members contacted report no injuries. However, some have experienced personal property loss and damage as a result of the storm. Outreach will continue until all team members have been contacted. Ardent Mills has started a hurricane recovery fund with a company match of $20,000.
“A small crew with our Puerto Rico community mill is currently assessing the impacts of the storm to the facility and has begun limited clean-up activities. We will resume operations as soon as it is safe to do so. Plant leaders are in contact with their customers to coordinate. Our operations team and partner carriers are keeping a watchful eye for conditions that would impair the safe delivery of flour and ingredients to customers such as rushing/standing water along with downed trees and power lines.”
According to Sosland Publishing’s Grain & Milling Annual, the Molinos de Puerto Rico flour mill has a daily flour production capacity of 10,000 cwts and has 3 million bus of wheat storage.In 2016, the mill was named the manufacturing company of the year by the island’s Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution.