The question is simply, how quickly can the rebuilding process get under way?
Daiki manufactures exterior doors, hoods and other sheet metal parts for the construction equipment industry.
The company was founded in the spring of 1995 as a joint venture between Daiki Industrial, Komatsu America and Nittetsu Shoji. Production at the Adairsville plant started in 1996.
Stephenson was in meetings much of this past week with top corporate executives — some of whom got to Adairsville a couple of days after the storm, others who didn’t make it to Georgia until last weekend.
“We’re trying to put together a plan of how to move forward, how quickly we can move forward,” Stephenson said. “Hopefully by Monday we’ll have an outline of how quickly we can get rebuilt, get going again and get people rehired.”
Daiki Human Resources Manager Paulette Knowles said corporate leaders were able to speak to virtually each of the company’s employees on Wednesday when the Georgia Department of Labor opened a special unemployment claims office, specifically for Daiki employees, at the North Pointe Church in Adairsville.
“We asked if they needed any assistance with anything and most of them were OK,” Knowles said.
Stephenson said he wanted to issue a special thanks to the GDOL.
“They have absolutely jumped through hoops getting our people signed up for unemployment,” he said. “We can rebuild a plant and we can find new equipment, but our main concern was the people. We’re going to take care of them.”
Riding out the storm
But how did close to 90 people survive a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado?
Personnel at the plant were aware there was a potential for bad weather on Jan. 30. Stephenson said an employee had an iPhone with a weather alert app.
“It went off and he told me, ‘Wes, there’s something on the ground in Bartow County,’ so we went up to the office,” Stephenson said.
An employee in the office had the weather up on her computer, and it didn’t take long to determine that Adairsville was in the bull’s-eye of the storm’s path. Foghorns used as an alert system were sounded and all of the 85 employees in the plant at that time moved to the cafeteria.
“Then we started hearing reports that this thing was going to be hidden in the clouds, so we got everybody in the bathrooms,” Stephenson said.
The employee with the iPhone continued to track the storm while they were huddled in the bathroom. At one point it appeared the storm was moving west of a red dot that they had determined was downtown Adairsville.
They were wrong.
That red dot was the Adairsville exit on Interstate 75 and the tornado was bearing down on the plant.
“I looked out the window and you could see this black, ugly, swirling cloud so I went through and yelled at everybody, ‘it’s on top of us, take shelter,’” Stephenson said.
Justin Carnes, Calhoun, said he rode out the storm in a bathroom that was more like a locker room.
Stephenson said he and Knowles and a couple of others barely had time to duck into a kitchenette and close the door.
“At first, it sounded like a tremendous hail storm then — just pounding on the doors and walls. I just thought any minute it was going to collapse, and then all of a sudden the ceiling caved in,” Stephenson said. “I looked up and the roof was gone and we were looking at the open sky.”
Stephenson and his entourage were trapped but, after employees were able to contact them over the two-way radio system, several people crawled through the debris to free them. A few minutes later, they were all free of the rubble and standing in the parking lot where they did a head-count and were able to account for everyone.
“We were just absolutely a bunch of drowned rats standing out in the parking lot,” Stephenson said.
Looking toward the future
Willis Worley of Adairsville had worked at Daiki in the paint department for about eight years.
“We were thankful to have our lives, and then the reality set in when it was all over with — that we don’t have a job anymore,” Worley said.
He had thought, prior to Wednesday’s meeting with the unemployment office personnel, that he would be picking up a paycheck. But he learned that wasn’t going to be the case.
“It might be two or three weeks before we get any unemployment, so the reality is really setting in,” he said.
Worley also has a son who worked at Daiki, and his son has a baby on the way.
“There’s a lot of people there that are really struggling bad,” Worley said.
Carnes, who worked in the door assembly department, said he is fortunate in that he is not married and still lives at home.
“Even still, it’s going to be tough. I’ve got a car payment and a loan payment … car insurance and stuff like that,” Carnes said. “Daiki is a great business to work for and great people to work with and I want to work there. Even if I got a job somewhere else, I would still — when it re-opened — I would still go back.”
HR manager Knowles said many employees have said they would come back to work, yet others said they didn’t know what they would do in the short-term future.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re going to rebuild it. It’s just a matter of how quick can we do it,” Stephenson said.
“The insurance adjusters have been onsite for a week now and we’re trying to get budgetary numbers on the building and the equipment,” he continued. “Hopefully we can have that done within just a few days, and then we’ll know where to go from there. We’re definitely going to be here.”