Dorian didn’t come to Tampa Bay, so where are my Amazon orders?

Independent drivers have been short on work as Amazon gets back to normal following its Dorian preparations.
An Amazon cargo jet taxies into position for takeoff at Tampa International Airport in 2017.  The retailer hasn't been flying in orders after closing warehouses in Florida ahead of Hurricane Dorian.
An Amazon cargo jet taxies into position for takeoff at Tampa International Airport in 2017. The retailer hasn't been flying in orders after closing warehouses in Florida ahead of Hurricane Dorian. [ BORCHUCK, JAMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sept. 4, 2019|Updated Sept. 4, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — On a normal day, picking up bundles of packages to deliver for Amazon can be a bit like The Hunger Games, according to driver Sally Collins.

There are usually more drivers signed up for the Amazon Flex delivery app than there are available orders, making the race to claim a “block” — a route and its corresponding packages — a mad race. There are normally 300 to 500 blocks at the St. Pete warehouse each day. In the last week, it’s been more like five or 10.

“This is way worse than it’s ever been before,” said Collins, 45.

In the days leading up to Hurricane Dorian and its uncertain path, businesses and schools had to prepare for the worst: classes were canceled, events postponed. Even Amazon, which spoils shoppers with same-day shipping, halted its orders to be on the safe side.

Now, the online retailer is telling local shoppers new orders — ones that often take no more than two days under Amazon Prime memberships — may not arrive until Sept. 9.

RELATED STORY: Dorian riding Florida coast as strong Category 2 hurricane

In a statement made ahead of storm, Amazon said it was “proactively closing operations facilities temporarily in the potential impacted areas.” That included Tampa Bay. The online retailer said safety of employees and drivers was its top priority.

“Customers living in areas affected by the hurricane may see a delayed delivery promise date on items when they go to checkout," Amazon said. “In limited circumstances, customers outside the impacted area may also see a slower delivery promise if the product they are ordering is shipping from an area within the projected path of the hurricane.”

Amazon closed the large fulfillment center in Ruskin and the smaller hubs in St. Petersburg and Brandon late last week when the storm was forecast to hit the hardest over the holiday weekend.

“Back on Thursday, the apocalypse was coming,” Collins said. “Even for us as drivers, it was a little interesting trying to find gas.”

Ultimately, Hurricane Dorian steered clear of Tampa Bay and Florida’s west coast. After Dorian brutally hammered the Bahamas, it began moving up along Florida’s east coast just offshore on Wednesday. Amazon had halted deliveries and closed warehouses there, too.

Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment about when things might start to resume as normal around Tampa Bay.

Collins said delivery planes were flown outside of Dorian’s predicted path, so Amazon’s entire logistics chain isn’t operating as normal. She lives just over a mile from the St. Petersburg warehouse so it’s easy for her to stop by and chat with Amazon employees for updates.

RELATED STORY: Working for gig apps is ‘world of uncertainty’ for its delivery drivers

The few orders that have gone out this week were packages that arrived at warehouses before Thursday, she said. Collins has snagged some batches, but said she hasn’t come close to the normal 35 to 50 hours she normally works a week.

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While warehouses are closed, Amazon pays employees that would normally be working.

Meanwhile, independent contractors are refreshing their apps, hoping they can soon start making up for the work they’ve missed.