Sept 12 (Reuters) - Transportation companies in Georgia and the Carolinas sprinted to secure property and employees in the path of Hurricane Florence on Wednesday as disruptions to the U.S. supply chain were already being felt.
BMW of North America has a plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, nearly 300 miles (483 km) inland from the life-threatening hurricane's projected point of landfall on Friday, and automobile shipments were diverted.
"Rail cars with vehicles destined for export from Charleston have been diverted to secure holding areas until the storm passes," BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks said. "The issue most closely monitored right now is the supply chain."
Forecasters say Florence, the first major hurricane to take direct aim at the U.S. mainland this year, could batter coastal areas with whipping winds, torrential rain and storm surges as high as 9 feet. They warned that the storm could unleash catastrophic flooding from southern Virginia to southern Georgia and stretch hundreds of miles inland.
Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, extended operating hours for trains and trucks to clear cargo containers from the complex. It will bar all access starting at midnight on Thursday.
No. 3 U.S. railroad operator CSX Corp provides service to the Port of Wilmington and will close the gates at its intermodal terminals in Savannah, Charlotte and Jacksonville on Wednesday evening, stopping inbound and outbound truck container traffic.
"We are ... coordinating closely with state and local officials to help ensure the safety of our employees and our property prior to the storm's landfall," CSX spokesman Christopher Smith said.
Such interruptions cascade quickly through the tightly connected U.S. supply chain.
United Parcel Service Inc, which already has stopped deliveries and pickups into evacuation zones, is helping large customers make contingency plans for packages destined for delivery in those areas, UPS spokesman Matthew O'Connor said.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; editing by Grant McCool