media release

Employees Brave Tornado Blitz

Employees at an Akzo Nobel Chemicals plant in the USA risked their lives to help others when a series of tornados struck Mississippi.

Employees from Akzo Nobel's Pulp and Paper Chemicals business in the USA risked their own lives to help their neighbors recently after a series of tornados hit the state of Mississippi.

Four members of theEka Chemicals emergency response team at the Columbus site, who are also part of thelocal volunteer fire department, rushed to the help of people who were trapped in their homes when three devastating twisters ripped through the county.

The site’s senior safety engineer Tim Groman, plant foreman Willie Mack Johnson and colleague Jeff Hays all dashed from their houses in response to the request for emergency assistance, while Stan Mathis—who was at work at the time—rushed home to help his family, neighbors and friends.

“A lot of homes were destroyed in the area and in total there was about USD 45 million worth of damage,” explained Tim, who was already out helping people when the second tornado struck. “There was only one fatality in the state, but a lot of people have been left homeless.”

A total of 54 people were injured during the severe storms and hundreds of homes in several counties were either damaged or destroyed.

“When we got the call we immediately went out to the stricken areas to try and get people out of the damaged buildings,” added Tim.

“It was tricky at first because a lot of power lines were down and they were still sparking when we first arrived, but it was neighbors helping neighbors and that was the most important thing.”

The Eka site employs around 120 people and two of them, including volunteer firefighter James Bush, suffered damage to their homes. The site remained safe, however, with the nearest tornado coming within around a mile of the facility.

Disaster relief organizations were quickly on the scene and the area is now picking itself up again with the aid of federal and state funds. As for Tim, it’s an experience he doesn’t want to go through again any time soon.

“It was eerie to go into an area that had been totally destroyed, yet 30 or 40 meters away the flowers in a garden were untouched. That’s the awesome power of nature I suppose.”

(Released: December 2, 2002)