Closures, adjustments made as Sandy bashes East Coast


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The New York Stock Exchange made it official Tuesday that the market will reopen today, after suspending operations for two days as Hurricane Sandy dumped water along the East Coast and sent ill winds whipping through New York City.

"We are pleased to be able to return to normal trading tomorrow," according to the official announcement quoting CEO Duncan Niederauer. "Our building and systems were not damaged, and our people have been working diligently to ensure that we have a smooth opening tomorrow. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities suffering in the wake of this terrible natural disaster."

Late October has a tradition of being tumultuous in the markets, but generally because of economic issues rather than natural disasters.

Sandy effectively caused disruptions of all sorts for both governments and businesses, as those in charge tried to outmaneuver a massive storm that paid little attention to official plans:

Consol Energy

Cecil-based Consol Energy reported that its gas and coal operations were slowed by the storm's sweep along the East Coast.

All gas rig operations -- with machinery that can stand several stories tall -- have been shut down until winds calm, and impoundments and pits had fluid levels reduced to account for the added rainfall that could have caused overflow.

The firm's coal division evacuated its Baltimore Terminal on Sunday but reported no damage as of mid-day Tuesday. Barges were secured and stockpile locations readied to receive coal if flooded rivers become unnavigable. All non-essential employees and contractors at coal operations were told not to report to work, and additional electricians were called in for support.

The company has experienced no issues so far, but had staff added to its Central Command Center to respond to incoming reports.

Giant Eagle

Monday afternoon, O'Hara grocer Giant Eagle posted a letter from CEO Laura Shapira Karet on its Facebook page announcing that customers' gas and food discounts set to expire today -- the last day of October -- would be extended another week.

"Safety is of paramount importance," the letter said. "The current severe weather conditions may create challenges for you in redeeming fuelperks! and foodperks! that would expire on Oct. 31, 2012."

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the post had collected almost 3,000 likes and more than 300 comments, many from customers relieved to get the extra time. "We hope these efforts can play a small part in easing some of your worries following the storm," Ms. Karet's letter said.

Whole Foods Market

Also using social media to communicate, Whole Foods Market's Facebook page for its Centre Avenue store shared Monday that there was a slight problem, but customers could benefit: "Hurricane Sandy has prevented our shipment of bags from coming in, we'd like to encourage you to bring in your own bags. Starting now through Wednesday remember your reusable bags to earn double the bag refund. That's 10 cents per bag!!"

Highmark

Pittsburgh insurer Highmark Inc. posted on Facebook Monday to alert customers to possible delays.

"Important news for our members and providers: Please be aware that you may experience longer wait times if you are trying to contact customer service today. Due to the dangerous weather conditions, some Highmark office locations are closed in order to keep our employees safe."

Cigna Corp.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia customers of Cigna are among those affected by temporary steps taken by the Connecticut insurer to help those hit by the hurricane. Through Sunday, the company will allow prescription refills "even if it would normally be too soon for a refill"; it will waive pre-certification, referral and hospital admission requirements; and it will pay claims for out-of-network services at in-network rates.

"Cigna is committed to helping people get quality health care and stay on their medications through this disaster," said Susan Gaca, chief nursing officer and director of emergency response, in the official announcement. "We'll do all we can to lessen the disruption of the storm on people's lives."

PNC Bank

On Monday, the Pittsburgh financial institution closed all its branches in New Jersey, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, central Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, as well as Washington, D.C., and the Virginia suburbs of the nation's capitol. "Non-branch employees in affected areas are working from home when possible," a company spokesman said.

By Tuesday, Fred Solomon reported most PNC branches were open for business, although closures continued in "central and northern New Jersey, New York City and just along the shore from southern New Jersey through Delaware and into Maryland."

In southwestern Pennsylvania, all branches were open Tuesday for business, he said.

American Eagle Outfitters

Like many retailers, American Eagle Outfitters closed down numerous stores as Sandy headed toward the coast. On Monday, the South Side teen retailer had shut more than 60 stores, with stores in Manhattan closed at 5 p.m. on Sunday since the city's mass transit systems were shutting down.

The company's New York design offices were scheduled to be closed through Tuesday.

"We are keeping a tight watch on the situation and have a pre-existing response committee that has activated our AE Emergency Communications Center," said Iris Yen, vice president of communications, in an update sent as the storm approached. She said the center was sending out notifications but employees could also call the AE hotline.

By Tuesday, the skies were clearing. "We are re-opening stores as power is restored across various areas and communities, but our employees' safety and well-being is our number one concern at this point and so we are focused on making sure everyone is accounted for and safe," said Ms. Yen, the day after the storm went through.

GNC Holdings

The Downtown-based health supplements retailer GNC Holdings re-scheduled the release of its third quarter financial results from Tuesday to Thursday, in addition to a scheduled conference call to discuss the results with analysts.

FedEx

FedEx closed facilities and stopped picking up and delivering packages to some areas affected by the hurricane. Erin Truxal, a spokeswoman for Moon-based FedEx Ground, said the corporation will resume service as soon as it safely can and when authorities allow the trucks to go through. Information about the company's operations is available at its website, Fedex.com.

Pa. Department of Labor and Industry

The Department of Labor and Industry in Harrisburg was scheduled to issue its monthly unemployment report for regional markets such as Pittsburgh on Monday morning, but the state decided to keep non-essential employees safely at home. The department is now expected to release the report of September unemployment statistics for statistical metropolitan areas and counties throughout the state when offices reopen after the hurricane. In addition, the labor department closed its unemployment compensation call centers in Harrisburg because of the hurricane.

Pa. Department of the Treasury

State Treasurer Rob McCord suggested that those who receive benefit payments this week should look carefully at the dates on the checks.

The treasury adjusted its mailing schedules in anticipation of the hurricane. The goal was to avoid a delay, but the result is that checks may arrive before the pay date printed on the payments.

"We did not want to have payments delayed because of this storm, so Treasury's team tracked the hurricane's progress closely," said Mr. McCord, in the announcement Tuesday. "Given yesterday's conditions, these steps enabled us to mail payments early before Hurricane Sandy affected electricity service or the postal system.

"Because some of these payments may be a day or two ahead of schedule, there's a slight chance checks will arrive in mailboxes before the date printed on them."

businessnews

Post-Gazette staff writers Ann Belser, Teresa F. Lindeman, Patricia Sabatini and Erich Schwartzel contributed to this report.


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