The Hurricane Chasers

by James Menzies

NEW ORLEANS, La. – When owner/operator Brad Eadie got the call to deliver a load of bottled water from Tweed, Ont. to the hurricane-ravaged state of Mississippi, he had no idea what he was getting himself into.

It all began as an ideal load. Eadie was asked to deliver more than 50,000 lbs of bottled water purchased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and intended for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He was issued special permits exempting him from certain regulations including weight restrictions.

And on Sept. 7, Eadie and a fellow Lingar Transport driver loaded up and headed south towards Meridian, Miss., with the much-needed water.

“The paperwork we received indicated the load was going to Meridian, Mississippi in aid of Hurricane Katrina victims,” recalls Eadie. “I got there on the 9th of September only to find out this was not the delivery point, it was a staging area.”

About 250 trucks were parked at the staging area, many of them with Canadian plates, Eadie said. However, the drivers were given little information about when and where they’d be able to unload. While some of the trucks carrying donated water and supplies were sent closer to New Orleans to unload, Eadie said many of the other drivers were forced to remain at the staging area (which he says had no services except for a few portapotties) for more than 32 hours.

That’s when things really turned strange, he says.

“They told me and about 60 other truck drivers they were moving us to another staging area at a Pilot Truck Stop in Lugoff, South Carolina,” says Eadie. “But when we got there, there were no representatives from FEMA or the Corps of Engineers.”

Eadie says drivers were beginning to get frustrated with the lack of direction and organization. While radio stations reported endlessly about the vital need for water and supplies in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, Eadie and the other drivers wondered why they were being sent further away from the disaster zone.

“There was still a need for the water,” Eadie recalls. “I’ve got 50,000 lbs of bottled water on my truck and they’re being told to boil water because of sewage backups. Why is it sitting on a truck? Get it to the people who need it!”

For hours, Eadie and the others waited in Lugoff, S.C. for some direction but there were no FEMA officials to be found.

“Everyone was getting short of patience,” admits Eadie. “It didn’t matter if you were from Canada or the U.S., patience was running very, very thin especially not knowing where we were delivering.”

After spending three days in Lugoff, waiting for directions, the truckers were redirected to at Flying J Travel Center in nearby Columbia, S.C.

“We get there and the Corps of Engineers says ‘We’re going to send you to Cumberland, Maryland to another staging area,'” Eadie remembers. “It turns out the reason they sent us to South Carolina was in case aid was needed following Hurricane Ophelia (which just brushed the East Coast). Now they’re sending us another 500 and some odd miles north to another FEMA staging area in Maryland.”

Eadie was relieved to see FEMA had representatives at the staging area in Maryland, but soon found out they didn’t know when or where the truckers would be able to unload the water. Finally, Eadie and the other drivers were allowed to detach their trailers and bobtail into town where they stocked up on food, clothes and supplies. They’d been away for a week now on what at first appeared to be a straight-forward delivery. Following the short trip into town, more surprises awaited the drivers.

“We come back from the shopping trip and a representative from the Corps of Engineers approached us and asked if we were Canadian drivers,” Eadie says.

He says the local news media had raised a stink about the number of Canadian drivers involved in the deliveries and questioned whether their VISAs allowed them to be hanging around. It turned out to be a stroke of good luck for the Canadians, however, as they were rounded up and told to deliver their supplies to a FEMA warehouse in Frederick, Maryland – about 93 miles east of Cumberland.

“The warehouse was virtually empty and I was the second truck to be unloaded,” says Eadie, who then headed back home after eight days away. Eadie, who has experience as a transport operator with the Canadian military says he was shocked by the lack of organization, and frustrated the water wasn’t put to better use.

“It seemed like the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. It was a case of having too many Chiefs and not enough Indians,” he says. “Our dispatchers’ hands were tied – the load broker’s hands were tied. FEMA was calling the shots and we were used as a mobile, portable storage facility.”

Eadie says he racked up more than 117 hours of waiting time – time for which he hasn’t been paid. Meanwhile, it cost him an unprecedented amount for fuel on his detour throughout the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S.

“They’re calling us the Hurricane Chasers,” chuckles Eadie.

Truck News heard similar tales from other truckers and carriers who were involved in the relief efforts.

Ranger Truck Lines sent two trucks out of its five-truck fleet to the region. They were gone for 10-14 days after being re-routed throughout the area.

“It was a nightmare,” says Amandeep Kang, operations manager for the Brampton, Ont.-based carrier. “It was very frustrating for our drivers, but we finally got them home.”

Allan Meiusi, president of Cabit Internet Truck Stop, also heard many horror stories from drivers on the front lines. The load-matching service was responsible for coordinating up to 210 loads per day destined for the regions hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

“It was staggeringly disappointing,” admits Meiusi, noting many of the carriers were donating use of their equipment and drivers. “This wasn’t anything we wanted to put drivers through – some of them were donating their time and goodwill. It wasn’t the most beneficial use of what Canadians had to offer.”

However, Meiusi says there is a silver lining to the story.

“Carriers on our service really stepped up and did an exceptional job offering help,” he says. “Where people could step up, it was phenomenal. They did a really great job and we were ecstatic by what was offered.”

Eadie agrees.

“I’m proud to say a lot of donated water came from Canada,” he says. “There were so many Canadian-plated trucks that it made me proud to be a Canadian. Whether the products on the trucks were donated or paid for didn’t matter. It made me proud to be doing something to help and the Canadian trucking industry really stepped up.”

But as for the load that started his entire ordeal, “I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if that water was still sitting in that warehouse in Maryland,” he says.

Timeline of Events

Sept. 7 – Owner/operator Brad Eadie gets the call from dispatch. He’s to deliver a load of bottled water from Tweed, Ont. to Meridian, Mississippi.

Sept. 9, 10 a.m. – Eadie arrives at a staging area in Meridian, Miss.

Sept. 10, 6:45 p.m. – Eadie and a group of other truck drivers are redirected to another staging area in Lugoff, S.C.

Sept. 11, 3:30 p.m. – Eadie arrives at Lugoff, S.C.

Sept. 14, 8:15 a.m. – Eadie and the other truckers are sent to the Flying J in Columbia, S.C. After the short drive to Columbia, they are redirected to Cumberland, Md.

Sept. 14, 8 p.m. – Eadie arrives at the FEMA staging area in Cumberland, Md.

Sept. 15, 9 a.m. – Eadie and about 150 other truck drivers are told they will be held in Cumberland until Hurricane Ophelia makes landfall in case supplies are needed nearby.

Sept. 15, 3:30 p.m. – The Canadian truckers, including Eadie, are rounded up and redirected to a warehouse in Frederick, Md.

Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m. – Eadie is the second truck to be unloaded at the Frederick, Md. warehouse and is free to head home to Belleville, Ont.

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