Tornado damage fallout: Workers fear layoffs if Montebello plant shuts down

Multiple buildings were damaged after a rare tornado ripped through Montebello last month, and now, one of those warehouses might have to make a difficult call. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tornado rips through Montebello; strongest tornado to hit Los Angeles-area in 40 years

Sixty people were informed that by the end of May, they may no longer have a job and that the plant is at risk of shutting down.

An EF1 twister tore through an industrial section of Montebello on March 22 where wind speeds reached up to 110 mph. It left behind a trail of destruction from small businesses to big ones. In total, 17 businesses were damaged and nearly a dozen buildings were red-tagged.

Three weeks later, some of them were still out of business or were operating at a reduced capacity. Many of the businesses applied for emergency federal funding, while others were still trying to work with their insurance companies.

Utilimaster, a Michigan-based company that specializes in after-market truck customization has notified the city that the damage to its building was so significant, they may be forced to lay off 60 employees – 47 hourly and 13 salaried workers at the end of May.

Montebello city officials said they are working to find jobs for those at risk of losing their job if the plant closes and will hold a job fair on May 3 to help.

The Shyft Group sent a letter to the city of Montebello, stating the facility will be closed for the foreseeable future and may result in a permanent closure:

Victor Sanchez, who helps manage Frost Bite's ice cream truck business, said it has been their only form of income for several years. He said they are a family of immigrants, and his uncle started the business.

"It [the businesses] created some type of work for us in order for us to earn a living, for our expenses, for college," said Sanchez. 

The family owns four ice cream trucks, and all four were damaged in the tornado.

"It was like the tornado was just for us because it literally hit all four of our trucks and right now, we're up, but they're not the same," said Sanchez.

Sanchez said the windshield on one of their trucks was smashed by a pole, and the other trucks suffered scratches and dents.

"We were all scared, all traumatized. We didn't know what to do and seeing the trucks getting hit and destroyed in front of us, our whole business, our jobs, our only way of income, it kind of hurt. It was sad and devastating," said Sanchez.

Sanchez said their insurance does not cover natural disasters like tornadoes so they are turning to GoFundMe instead, asking for $13,000 to help with truck repairs. Those interested in helping the family can click here for more information.

Utilimaster's parent company, The Shyft Group, released the following statement to FOX 11:

"On March 22, 2023, The Shyft Group’s leased facility in Montebello, California, experienced damage from a tornado. Our top priority remains the safety and well-being of our employees, and thankfully no serious injuries to company personnel were reported. We are actively communicating with employees, customers and suppliers to manage the business. We are also working closely with our insurance carrier as our policies provide for coverage following a natural disaster, such as a tornado. As this due diligence is currently ongoing, no final decisions have been made to close the location at this time. Due to the extent of the damage from the tornado, the 40,000-square-foot facility will not be operational in the immediate near term and we are evaluating options related to the business conducted there. As a result, we have proactively informed our employees while providing them with pay and benefits for 60 days from the time of notice as we continue to assess alternatives."