Hurricane Isabel - How Cleaning and Restoration Specialists Work the Storm

November 6, 2003
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Hurricane Isabel pounded the Eastern seaboard in September, flooding the area with storm surges and torrential rains, knocking down power lines and causing severe commercial and residential damage in eight states. The affected states - Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia - are estimating more than $1.17 billion in insured property losses.

The destruction and the subsequent demand for drying equipment jammed the phone lines at Sun-Belt USA, a supply distributor in Raleigh, N.C. Not only was the business left unscathed by the storm, but the supplier has been "swamped taking care of calls from the eastern part of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia," said Steve Boyette, Sun-Belt's general manager and associate director of the Mid-South Professional Cleaners Association.

"We've already turned over our inventory once because of the storm," Boyette said. "Our line of dehumidifiers has helped us as well. I don't think we've missed too many sales - we're trying to keep up with them, to keep our customers supplied."

Sun-Belt's plan for dealing with storms has been the same for 15 years. "No matter what type of weather, we make sure that we've got a good stock of equipment to take care of our customers' needs," Boyette said.

Marcia Neu, marketing manager for Burlington, Wash.-based manufacturer Dri-Eaz, explains that her company's plan is to try and anticipate where a storm might hit, and have their products there before the storm reaches land.

"As it became more clear where Isabel was heading, we worked to get our products as quickly as possible to Nashville, because that location can be reached in a day from anywhere on the East Coast," Neu said.

Shipping to Nashville involves analyzing inventory levels, checking with key distributors in the area, and negotiating with distributors to see how stock could be shifted, Neu said (as a precaution, some equipment was also shipped to Toronto, in case Isabel crawled further north along the East Coast). Products shipped to Nashville included turbo dryers and dehumidifiers; the demand created by the impending storm caused people to not be too particular in their model selection.

"In this type of situation, people will buy whatever's in stock. They just need the equipment," Neu said.

Water Out, a large drying-equipment manufacturer based in Jackson, N.J., contacted members in strategic locations throughout Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania so that equipment and generators could be positioned outside the path of the storm. This put the company at the ready once the storm had passed through, according to CEO Charles Cressy.

"We were involved with drying within 12 hours after the storm had passed," Cressy said. "We were in contact with all our East Coast members to find out if they were interested in being involved in this. Most of them did agree that they would make their equipment available. We already had preset contracts with insurance companies to respond to customers' needs. We were directed to different sites by the insurance companies, to this loss or that loss, so we were not just waiting in the dark."

Aside from storm damage such as downed power lines, structural debris and contaminated surface water, Cressy says one of the largest problems still ahead is mold.

"Mold will definitely be a problem," he said. "Storm water has been sitting there, and many people don't know what they're dealing with. There's not enough equipment to handle it, and insurance companies are very slow to react. Obviously, contractors don't want to start a job when they have to worry about who's going to pay for this when it's done. As a result, there's a lot of do-it-yourself drying going on, and given the hot-and-humid weather conditions, there's going to be a lot of problems."

Frank Conte, general manager of Commercial Drying Technologies in Toms River, N.J., also thinks that mold will be an issue.

"Everybody looks at the immediate results, the immediate damage, but that storm brought driving rain and plenty of moisture," Conte said. " This moisture is latent in homes, and it's high enough to cause a problem.

"When Tropical Storm Allison didn't become a hurricane, everybody wrote it off, but there was plenty of damage done from rain and driving winds as it made its way up the country," he said. "The same thing happened with Hurricane Floyd. Once it stopped being a hurricane and turned into a tropical storm, it dropped tons of water everywhere. The result was, someone could be sitting on a property that they thought was okay, and didn't bother to have tested for excessive moisture or high relative humidity levels. That's a breeding ground for mold."

Conte cautions business owners to check their walls for moisture and the air for excessive relative humidity. If there is a potential situation for mold but spores haven't yet developed, address the mold and get the building dried out, he said.

"People need to be aware that for any contaminant to grow, it needs moisture," Conte explains. "It doesn't necessarily have to be water running through the walls or over the floor to promote mold growth - just high enough relative humidity and a high enough temperature. If you find high moisture in Sheetrock and wood products, you need to do something about it immediately."

Al Bradham, owner of Carpet Care Services, Summerville, S.C., and past president of the Mid-South Professional Cleaners Association, says the key to dealing with a storm lies in networking with your colleagues and peers.

"My first action was to contact cleaners in the affected areas," Bradham said. "We told them of our capabilities. Then we contacted drying schools, people on the association network and IICRC master restorers. It's not a good idea to just show up to a storm and think you're going to get work. You need to network, and get the word out as much as possible. We network with other cleaners who can open doors for us."

Bradham says that some crews have dealt with sewer contamination and other health issues, but that his company hasn't seen any of that. He agrees that mold will play a significant part in cleanup over the coming weeks.

"Mold was one of the issues with a large hotel we were cleaning out," Bradham said. "They originally wanted us to just suck the water out of the carpets. But we showed them where the walls were wet, where wind-driven rain had penetrated into the Sheetrock. It went from the equivalent of a $10,000 job to a $325,000 job."

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