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Phillips 66 employees tap into resilient spirit after Hurricane Laura

Jim Miller turned his home into a bunker and rode out the storm. Madison Abshire endured severe roof and water damage to her house. Jerry Lemons did, too, and he and his wife also had to make the tough decision to shutter the family business.

Miller, Abshire and Lemons are three of the many Phillips 66 employees in Southwest Louisiana whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Laura. But there they were, on a recent Friday morning, suited up and working to bring back online the Phillips 66 Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex, which is expected to resume operations next month.

“That’s just the way people are down here in Louisiana,” said Lemons, a senior safety consultant at the Lake Charles Refinery. “We work together, and we just get it done.”

Laura was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall on Aug. 27, bringing 150 mph winds with it and causing damage that Lemons says will likely take six months to a year to repair. Like many of his colleagues, he is currently displaced from his home and staying in a hotel that the Phillips 66 HR Support Center secured.

The family business, however — a salon and day spa in downtown Lake Charles — sustained irreversible damages when the neighboring two-story wall fell onto part of the spa’s roof.

“The business was just starting to come back from COVID, and then Hurricane Laura happened,” he said. “It does get to you at times, when you stop for a minute and you look at everything and you realize what all you have to do.”

Miller, Process Safety Director at the refinery, rode out the hurricane with his wife from their home in Sulphur, Louisiana, just 6 miles west of the Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex.

“We couldn’t see anything, but we could hear debris hitting our house,” said Miller.

At the peak of the hurricane, the winds were so strong that their front doors started to bow inward, and Miller and his wife quickly grabbed some spare boards and drilled them into the door to keep them from breaking open.

Realizing the damage to its employees’ homes, Phillips 66 quickly secured hard-to-find items — including generators, carbon monoxide detectors, and A/C units — to loan out. That was in addition to providing essential items like water, ice, fuel and roof-repair supplies, and financial hardship and insurance claims assistance.

Abshire, a refinery operator who was hired on full-time earlier this year, went to stay with her grandparents in Hayes, Louisiana, after her home sustained damages. She said the assistance she received from the company gave her the opportunity to step up and help her grandparents, who hadn’t sustained damages but lost power to their home for a number of days.

“By working for a company that takes care of its employees, I was able to take care of my family,” she said.