Workers protect steel mill in Baytown during Hurricane Harvey

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Workers worked to protecct Baytown Steel Mill. (KTRK)

One month ago, JSW Steel in Baytown was preparing for Harvey, but all the best-laid plans couldn't prepare the largest steel plant in the area for what was to come.

"We moved a lot of equipment, secured the power grid," said Sales VP Rick Linkimer. "No one knew from the preparation how bad it would be."

The plant occupies what was the old US Steel facility, that went out of business in the early 1980s. In recent years, JSW took it over and has spent time and money reshaping into a modern operation, with plans of a massive expansion.

Harvey put all of that on the line. The plant's future rested on the shoulders of a skeleton crew that volunteered to stay through the days of punishing, flooding rains. Other workers, like so many people, couldn't return to the mill because of flooded roads, and in some cases, flooded homes.

"It never stopped," said Wayne Simons, who was one of those who spent four days and nights on the job. "Instead of sunshine, all we would see was rain."

Their determination never dampened.

"People asked me why I stayed, they asked what about your family. I told them I took care of my family at home, and now I had to take care of my family here. We have a lot of families to feed, and a mill to run and this is the future of everyone here," he said.

So they stayed. The crisis came when water began pouring into the basement, where equipment vital to the steel press, and the furnaces that heat it are stored. Those cannot be moved.

"They had the idea to grab whatever they could, to mitigate the problem," said Simons.

What they grabbed were backhoes that moved mounds of slag accumulated during processing. It was pushed around the building where water was starting to pour inside, creating a giant, immovable barrier, stronger than any sandbag.

It worked.

On September 6, JSW Steel was back in operation, milling steel in sheets measured in tons, the stuff of which battleships, pipelines and buildings are made.

Rick Linkimer said the work of a skeleton crew saved the plant's present, future and the jobs it provides.

"The entire operation of this mill could have easily been jeopardized by this weather," he said.

For Joel Lowery, who was part of that crew, it was personal.

"I lost my father during Hurricane Alicia years ago," Lowery said.

Hurricanes are personal to him, and for Harvey, he fought back.


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societyhurricane harveyfloodingBaytown
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