POISED FOR HARVEY'S PUNCH

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📅   Wed September 13, 2017 – West Edition #19
Craig Mongeau – CEG Editor in Chief

Southeastern Texas contractors, equipment manufacturers and dealers will ultimately be on the front lines of this massive rebuilding effort. (Paul Jordan Anderson/Doublehorn Photography photo)

Southeastern Texas contractors, equipment manufacturers and dealers will ultimately be on the front lines of this massive rebuilding effort. (Paul Jordan Anderson/Doublehorn Photography photo)

Texans are tough. As Hurricane Harvey slowly spun toward southeastern Texas, its residents and businesses, particularly those in the Corpus Christi and Houston areas, hunkered down, poised to brace against the storm that would make landfall on Aug. 25.

While many were fortunate, not all were: At press time, Harvey was responsible for approximately 70 fatalities. Those immediate tragic losses coupled with what may prove to be hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of structural and infrastructure damage. Texas will be recovering and rebuilding for several years to come.

Southeastern Texas contractors, equipment manufacturers and dealers will ultimately be on the front lines of this massive rebuilding effort. But first, they had to overcome the initial disaster.

“We were out of power in Victoria about a week,” said Grant Bradshaw, sales manager of Corpus Christi and Houston-based Nueces Power Equipment. “For the most part, all of our people were safe. We never lost power at our Houston operation, but there were a lot of people who couldn’t drive to the office because of the flooding. Basically, we missed a full week in Victoria and Houston.

“Overall, though, we were very blessed; it could have been a lot worse,” he added. “We can’t complain. There are a lot of people who are a lot worse off than we are. Trust me, we have a lot of flooded equipment there in Houston, but we still don’t know the extent of the damage, yet.”

Mike Andrews, general manager of construction equipment, of Darr Equipment, said, “We had water up to the electrical receptacles, however, there was no significant damage. We had a lot of mud and debris.”

Darr Equipment has branches throughout Texas, including five in the Houston area. Its facility in Beaumont, as of Sept. 6, had not yet reopened.

“Flooded roadways are preventing people from getting there,” he said. “But we are already renting equipment for cleanup; that started almost when the rain stopped.”

LiuGong/Dressta, based in Katy, Texas, began preparations as soon as it could.

“Before the hurricane, we decided for the safety of our employees and their families to cease operations on Friday, August 25,” said Marcus Menough, director of sales and marketing of LiuGong/Dressta. “The storm didn’t hit [Katy] until the wee hours of Saturday [Aug. 26] morning. This gave them time to get home, get supplies, get hunkered down, leave town and do whatever was necessary.”

Four Seasons Equipment President Dave Keim considered his company lucky in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.

“We were very fortunate where our facility was that we didn’t sustain any real damage or flooding,” he said.

Four Seasons has a branch at 8111 Mills Road in Houston.

Sam Tucker, vice president of Mustang CAT’s machinery division, said that his company had to temporarily close some facilities.

“We lost Monday [Aug. 28]. People who were able to get to the office showed up. We lost a portion of our rental fleet in Houston due to the flooding and possibly in Beaumont … we’re not exactly sure what the total is, yet. We’re still trying to assess that.”

He added that Mustang CAT is now open at close to full strength, but there are still some employees who have water in their houses who cannot make in, yet.

Opening for Business, Helping Out

Harvey not only thwarted some businesses from opening but also from mobilizing equipment to where it was needed. But many tried.

“It’s going to take a little while to play out,” Keim said on Sept. 1. “We had some wheel loaders on standby for the fire department, but they were never required. Down the road, we’ll probably see a spike in equipment needs, but right now, it’s still a rescue operation and everyone is assessing what will be needed.”

The storm impacted LiuGong/Dressta’s operations at first, specifically, from a parts perspective.

“Our plan was to come back to work bright and early Monday morning [Aug. 28] and be back at full operational speed, depending on the storm,” said Menough. “But the storm changed that, with the flooding in Houston and all of the roads being closed, as well as some of our employees being impacted with water in their homes or by evacuation orders by their neighborhoods.”

LiuGong/Dressta employees were not able to return to work until Thursday, Aug. 31, and at that, it was a limited basis for those that could even reach the office.

“I was one who could not,” said Menough. “I had to evacuate my home. I had nothing but my computer and cell phone, which is enough to do business, but not enough to get the technical and parts support for our end users and dealers. So, we’re able to handle technical questions, manning the phones, and on [Thursday], we were able to drop some parts off manually. But none of the carriers were available for pickup. And most of them weren’t able to ship the parts out anyway. So, Harvey definitely put a hurting on our day-to day parts support operation.”

By Friday, Sept. 1, LiuGong/Dressta was back to approximately 95 percent of its workforce and returned to what Menough said was a normal day-to-day operation for his company at that time.

“We were full force after Labor Day on Tuesday [Sept. 5],” he said. “But because of the flooded streets and the west side of town being hit so hard and the roads being shut down and impassable, our commute times for us and for many people in the Houston and Katy area have gone from minutes to hours. All the major arteries in and out of town were impassable, except for one. As a result, the costs of van and truck lines to get in and out of town have caused freight costs to go up. The flooding for the most part on the major roadways has gone down and things are pretty much back to normal. The good thing for us, too, and this was a huge positive, we essentially kept power throughout the storm and the aftermath.”

LiuGong/Dressta partnered with its dealers in the area to assist in getting needed equipment out to help.

“We made our equipment available through a local first response organization,” said Menough. “But I’ll be honest, one of our major issues with equipment mobilization was that we have quite a bit of our equipment here in Texas and we utilize a local storage facility that’s closer to the ports and you really couldn’t even get to those yards for some time. So, even if we wanted to mobilize local equipment at the start, quickly, we could not.”

Menough said that LiuGong/Dressta has been offering packages to its dealers at what the company is calling “Hurricane Harvey pricing,” so that it can assist its dealers and contractors in the affected areas, as well as offering up equipment free of charge.

“We’ve received a lot of calls,” Menough said. “But believe it or not, it’s been for forklifts. I assume the heavy construction pieces will gain traction as they really start to do the heavy clean up. Right now, it’s really just ripping things out of homes and cleaning up minor debris. The forklifts have been in demand to move mobile kitchens, to move pallets around, supplies and materials, etc.

“First and foremost, our people at LiuGong and Dressta were safe,” he added. “From our perspective, we want to take care of our people and we need to take care of our customers, who are our lifeblood. Without them, without our dealers, we have no purpose. So, getting our operations back up where we could provide them with the proper technical data and help, getting parts to them on an emergency basis, making sure that they were running and working and ready to do their jobs, whether it was cleanup here in Houston or Corpus Christi or for a normal bridge job in New Jersey, we wanted to make sure we got back to take care of those customers.”

Nueces Power Equipment has been involved with AEP [Texas] in providing emergency response equipment.

“We’re tied in with a good contractor here that does all of that,” Bradshaw said. “Texas DOT called us for some equipment, but they were pulling equipment from everywhere. We have lots of generators and skid steers in Port A [Aransas] that people are using to help provide power and help clean up debris with. We were just trying to help provide power and get people back up and going. The coastal towns got hit the hardest. If you go to the Rockport area and all the way down to Houston, all those little towns got hit hard. It wasn’t so much the wind damage… it was the water surge.”

Bradshaw said that Nueces had been helping every first responder it could.

“In Houston, we have a sales representative, Kevin Schuette, who has an airboat,” Bradshaw said. “He [Schuette] spent four days out there literally rescuing people. There’s a business person we know in Port A and we were trying to help him get back and running, and there’s another person we know there … and we had to laugh … he was running a bed & breakfast out of his house, basically. They actually got power back today [Sept. 5]. I brought a bunch of kids from the high school near here by my house and we were cleaning out senior citizens’ houses; people that could carry things out.”

“A number of our employees have been volunteering and assisting others in need, whether that be debris removal in their homes and at shelters, as well as donating perishable and nonperishable goods,” LiuGong’s Menough said.

The Houston police department connected with Mustang CAT in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.

“We had some [Caterpillar] 740 articulated trucks out driving and picking people up,” Tucker said. “That was on Sunday [Aug. 27] and Monday [Aug. 28]. There also have been some instances where we helped with pumps.”

Mustang CAT, according to Tucker, also has donated $250,000 to the Red Cross and $100,000 to the United Way.

“There were a total of seven trucks we had out helping and some of them were used to take supplies to the Red Cross,” Tucker said. “We’re also helping out our employees with some of the damage they received from the hurricane … some people still have some standing water in their houses.”

A Massive Rebuilding Effort for Years to Come

At press time, southeastern Texas was slowly beginning to see some of the extent of the damage Harvey caused, but only in some areas.

“There’s no telling right now what infrastructure and other needs are going to be,” Bradshaw said. “The problem is, if you drive around Port Aransas and the buildings that you think are OK, aren’t because they have so much water damage. And here’s the worst thing I’ve heard: of everyone’s house that got flooded, only 15 percent of them have flood insurance.”

All the jobs from southeastern Texas to the Louisiana state line shut down for two weeks, said Keim of Four Seasons Equipment.

“Now customers are getting back to work, but there are still some who can’t access their jobs,” he said. “There’s a lot of devastation in the area; there are still neighborhoods and roads that are flooded. But as usual, the people in Texas are making the best of it, rolling up their sleeves and getting back to work. It’s going to take years to rebuild, though. We’re starting to have customers looking for equipment as the cleanup process gets nearer.”

Mitch Nevins, who is CEO of Four Seasons, also is CEO and president of Bell Trucks and many of those trucks were spotted being used by contractors in the area as rescue vehicles.

“There’s a lot of commercial and residential damage,” said Tucker. “The most I’ve seen up close is residential damage. There are streets with a lot of trash. You go through some of these neighborhoods and there’s trash all lined up as far as you can see. We’ve been going to houses and helping to remove some of this, whatever they need.”

There are still streets that are flooded, though, Tucker added.

“When they released some water from the reservoirs [because of concerns that the reservoirs could collapse], that’s the water that’s still standing on some places … on the west side of Houston,” he said. “Some people at first didn’t experience flooding, but after they did the release, that’s when they flooded out. It’s going to take a while, unfortunately.”

How many years will it take to recover?

“Oh, my gosh, I don’t know … I think it’s going to be maybe five years,” Tucker said. “I’ve heard two years and I’ve heard five years. One situation right now is that all the landfills are starting to get filled up. All the waste companies are concerned because they’re running out of space for all this trash and debris that we have right now. Also, a lot of the sand pits where raw material comes from for streets contruction, those were all flooded.”

From a housing perspective, it’s devastation like we’ve never seen before, said Menough.

“Hundreds of thousands of homes have been impacted and for many, they won’t be able to get back into their homes, for six months or more, if ever,” he said. “I was born and raised in Houston and have spent my entire life here, and I’ve never seen this widespread devastation here. The only other time was what I saw in New Orleans after Katrina. But I’ll call this a miracle: the loss of life is minimal at 50 to 60 people [70, as of press time]. And that’s not trivial, that’s a horrific number to even comprehend, but it’s not hundreds or thousands like what was experienced in Louisiana.”

Many roadways have been impacted and sinkholes have developed because of the water weight.

“Entire roads have been washed out, some are still covered by water from the Buffalo Bayou overflowing,” Menough said. “Besides the billions of dollars of homes and businesses that were damaged, the roadways and infrastructure could take years to get back to what this city is used to, which has been a very strong, thriving, growing city; it’s going to be a long-term impact.

“I’ll say this, and I’ll use our local J.J. Watt as an example, the humanity, the people, regardless of race, creed, nationality, religion have come together in an unprecedented way to support those that are in need,” he added. “It warms your heart, especially after it was broken by the storm. It makes you proud to be a Texan.”

CEG

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