The aftermath of a punishing hurricane season

November 1, 2004
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Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan are names that seem all to familiar to the millions of people affected by the 2004 hurricane season, which brought storm after storm to many of the same areas, leaving little chance for recovery in between. Homes and properties were destroyed, lives were taken, and businesses lost production. Companies struggled to keep operations running -- including several in the stone industry -- even as power loss left few options for the many who were still feeling the aftermath of the violent storms weeks after they left town.

Although Mystic Granite and Marble Inc.'s facility in Orlando, FL, suffered minimal damage, its employees and customers were greatly affected. “Our employees come from all over the state,” said Donna Mauro of Mystic, which distributes stone slabs and tiles locally and nationally. “Some live up to an hour away, and had trouble getting to work because of flooding and trees blocking the roads. Some of them didn't have electric for over a week, but they still came to work. Our clients in the Southeast still don't have power [as of mid-October], and it is still difficult to get in touch with many of them.” Sarasota Stone and Granite, a client of Mystic Granite and Marble located in Sarasota, FL, was able to keep its shop open, despite power loss for one day. “We didn't see much damage, but some of our competitors in the Punta Gorda area were wiped out completely,” said Randy McGowen of Sarasota Stone and Granite. “We were fortunate, all three hurricanes skirted around us.”

Another Mystic client, Elgin Marble Inc., located in Vero Beach, FL, suffered power loss lasting for a week and a half during the first hurricane, and one week during the second hurricane. Fortunately, none of its slabs were damaged because the employees tied them down prior to the onslaught of Hurricane Charley.

Marble Unlimited Inc., another Mystic customer located in Fort Pierce, FL, was not as fortunate, and was hit hard by the devastating sequence of storms. During Hurricane Charley, the company was forced to close down the shop for four working days due to severe property damage. “We lost our shop fabrication work stations, the roof on the front side of our building, some of our siding on the metal building and all of our compressors,” said Jennifer Baiceanu, president of the company. “From the roof loss, our entire office contents got wet, and now we are dealing with mold and a wet showroom. We had a portable office for receiving that got flipped over and destroyed, and several slabs were broken.” The devastation did not stop there, however, because shortly thereafter, a second storm hit the same area. During Hurricane Ivan, the company lost the back side of its building roof, the structure of the metal building began to cave in, more water caused further damage to their office and showroom, and more slabs were destroyed. According to Baiceanu, the recovery process is slow. “Insurance has been slow, and no cash advance [is available], so everything is out of pocket,” she explained. “There is a great sense of unsteadiness about work and our insurance. We wonder if insurance will really pay, and if so, how much.” Luck, it seems, has been rare for the company lately. “My stone installers tried tackling the roof that got torn off. In doing so, they drove our heavy-duty forklift on top of the septic tank and caved the top in. And although we did our best at the repair, we have had rain the last few days, and our office is still leaking. Now we have about an inch of steady water in the showroom.”

In an attempt to keep residences safe and alert, the City of Fort Pierce put a curfew in effect, and banned liquor from being purchased. “The hurricane is an experience in itself, however,” said Baiceanu. “Employees miss work, clients disappear, everything costs more if you can find it, everyone is irritable and tired, and no one has had power for weeks on end. At home, curfew is 6 or 7 p.m., and no one will sell you any alcohol due to the bans on it. We tried to escape and go to a movie, but the town had the movie theater play the last film at 3 p.m. due to curfew.” For Marble Unlimited, the journey to recover seems endless. “My entire staff has had our homes and life interrupted,” she said. “We are all sick with sinus infections from living with constant mold, and it is only getting worse. It is hard to see the end of the tunnel when we have so far to go with no help.”

Beyond Florida

Atlanta-based Stone Interiors was also greatly affected by the recent slew of storms. “This year was a devastating year for hurricanes, and our plant in Loxley, AL, had Hurricane Ivan pass directly over our facility,” said President G.K. Naquin, who has approximately 31,000 square feet of office and fabrication spaces. The company generally stores its material -- approximately 2,000 slabs -- outside in a rack system on A-frames. Although Stone Interiors does some handwork, the majority of its fabrication is handled by automated machinery, making power loss a major concern. “Hurricane Ivan was projected to go east of our location, into Florida, but having lived through many hurricanes and knowing how difficult it is to project where they will make landfall, we closed our fabrication and installation facility down two days prior to the landfall on Thursday, September 16,” said Naquin, adding that this was a difficult task considering the fact that the company installs and fabricates an average of 10 kitchens a day. “Customers were called and advised we would follow up after Ivan had passed. Ivan hit the Alabama gulf coast just 22 miles south of our plant, and to say major devastation would be an understatement. We crisis-managed our plant prior to shutting it down by securing all material stored outside, storing all vehicles in the warehouses and taping and protecting canvas awnings and windows.”

When employees returned to the facility the Friday after Ivan had passed, they had no power, and overhead doors and permanent awnings were destroyed. Luckily, only one granite slab was broken. The Alabama facility also contains the computer communication system for the South Carolina plant, causing that operation to shut down as well. The employees of Stone Interiors brought in generators, and power was fully restored by that Sunday, three days after Ivan hit the area. Fortunately, the company was back in business on Monday and only lost four days of production. “Our markets east of our facility are damaged, and the orders we had are being delayed until reconstruction, but all the business west of our location was back in full supply that Monday morning,” said Naquin. “We have experienced a loss of business in the areas most devastated, but we understand they will be the robust areas within the next few months.”

As of this writing in mid-October, some companies are still dealing with clean-up and damage from the storms, and others have returned to work as usual. For those companies who are still not up and running, they strive for the day when they can return to business as normal.

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