Victoria (Victoria County) – After the deluge of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, Phillip and Jason Johns, the owners of South Texas Fence and Deck in Victoria posted a note to their website.
“Because of the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, expect delays on quotes and job completions. Please be patient with us, we are working extremely hard and diligently to get caught up.”
That sums up what every contractor along the Coastal Bend has been going through this past few weeks and will likely be experiencing for many weeks to come.
It isn’t just that contractors are overwhelmed with requests for repairs. Many have had to help their employees get on their feet, before deploying crews. Businesses with storm damaged offices or left without power have had to relocate to temporary offices. In some cases, helping employees has meant clearing trees from roads just so they can drive out of their neighborhoods.
Lauger Companies Inc., a Victoria general contractor, deployed cranes to get tree limbs off roofs and used bobcats to clear debris, she said.
Virtual Builders Exchange conducted a survey of about fifty contractors only to discover that the majority were too busy to discuss their situation. However, VBX was able to conclude that the extent of damages will have the skilled and unskilled trades overwhelmed with job requests.
There appears to be a glut of potential clients that cannot wait for insurance claims to be approved and are willing to pay cash out of pocket. Many storm victims that were first in line on claims have checks in hand or know the claims will soon be honored.
H&H Door is a Victoria-based supplier of commercial and residential doors and door frames. The company’s territory extends from Beaumont to Brownsville.
Immediately after the storm’s passage, vice president and co-owner Chase Stanzel said H&H responded to requests from first responders—police departments and fire departments—who could not get their emergency vehicles out of garages because the winds had wrecked the overhead metal doors or dislodged them from their tracks.
“We really haven’t stopped and there’s an enormous amount of damaged doors all over the Gulf Coast,” Stanzel said. “We’re going to work as long as our customers need us there. Everybody has got to roll up their sleeves with this thing.”
There is no indication as to when H&H will return to normal operating hours, Stanzel noted, as the wind damage is extensive from Rockport and Port Aransas to Victoria.
A gas station/convenience store in Victoria is left in tatters after the storm. Photo Credit: ABC KSAT 12.
H&H also installs interior doors to offices and residences. Flooding throughout the Houston area will ruin interior doors by the thousands and they’ll have to be replaced, he said.
If there is a silver lining, it is that H&H, like many companies based near the coast, have been through hurricanes before.
“We’ve been around 35 years. We’ve seen our fair share and we’re very prepared. We didn’t have power at our office Sunday through Thursday (after the storm). That didn’t stop us. We were prepared with alternate ways to get hold of us. We went back to handwritten tickets, the old school way,” Stanzel said.
The insurance adjustment process has helped somewhat, in the sense that many customers are having to wait before they request services.
“That slows down the immediate rush,” Stanzel said. But he knows they will be calling eventually.
“A lot of them, they can’t wait. They have to assume they’ll be covered and are paying out of pocket,” Stanzel added.
Bulmaro “Bull” Martinez, is a Victoria general contractor who operates several businesses, including American Pro Build. He’s known about town for flipping houses, but his crews will take on just about any job.
Since the hurricane, however, Martinez said his priority is roofing. He has decided the greatest need is to weatherize storm damaged homes.
“Right now, we’re strictly on roofs. It’s not a pleasant thing to have a leaky house. We’re not touching anything interior,” Martinez said.
He said other contractors are doing interior work, but he doesn’t want to get bogged down with those types of customers, “because everyone else is going to suffer.” The one exception to that decision is mildew. If the interior damage is a health hazard, he said he would have the materials removed.
The day before the storm hit, he let his employees go to their homes to ride it out. When it passed, he went to his office and found it uninhabitable. He instructed those workers that could return to meet at one of the houses he was remodeling.
Since recovery efforts began, Martinez saw that those homeowners that made their damage claims the day after got their checks quick. Those that were with Texas Farm Bureau Insurance and Germania Insurance had the best results, but the larger national insurers have been slower, he said.
“These adjustors I’m meeting do not work directly for the insurance companies. They’re independent and an insurance company claims specialist has to review their work,” he said. “Another issue is a lot of homeowners have a mortgage and the homeowner and mortgage company both have to sign; that slows the process even longer.”
During the first week after the storm, Martinez said the phones rang so much he stopped answering them. Life as he is experiencing it today is not normal.
“Usually, my day is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Now it’s sunup to sundown. But a lot of these clients are frustrated. They’re living in disarray. A lot of their personal items got ruined and they don’t know who to call,” he said.
Victoria has also been invaded. Martinez sees many commercial vehicles with out of town phone numbers and there are teams of sales people knocking door to door in the neighborhoods, trying to sign up property owners for repair work with out of town companies.
“I don’t know anything about them. I can’t say anything good or bad. My biggest concern is if you’re from out of town, what are the chances of honoring the warranty on that work?” Martinez wondered. “I’m born and raised in Victoria. I have a reputation to uphold.”
However, Martinez admits that there is so much damage is Victoria that there is no way the local contractors can do all the work. Multiply that be every town and city within the 300 miles between Corpus Christi and Beaumont that bore the brunt of Harvey and the mind boggles.
Governor Greg Abbott’s disaster proclamation included 58 counties, making them eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance.
Contractors interested in FEMA awards must register with FEMA to be vendors, but Martinez is not and he isn’t interested. There’s plenty of work, regardless, he noted.
Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation has implemented a fast-track licensing process for out of state contractors or for in-state contractors with lapsed licenses. But TDLR governs few relevant trades; these include air conditioning and refrigeration, towing/booting operators, electricians, mold assessors and remediators, and a few others.
The state does not regulate roofers or homebuilders/remodelers. However, the state Board of Plumbing Examiners regulates the plumbing trade and is creating a provisional status for out of state licensed master plumbers.
Abbott also created the Commission to Rebuild Texas, putting Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp in charge. Its mission is to oversee the response and relief effort between state and local governments.
“The Commission will also be involved in the rebuilding process, focusing on restoring roads, bridges, schools and government buildings in impacted communities,” according to its mission statement.
As of September 15, more than 735,000 individual assistance applications have been received by FEMA; more than $378 million in emergency funding has been issued; and the Small Business Administration has issued $172 million in small business loans, the governor’s office reported.
FEMA isn’t just contracting, the agency is also hiring. Positions have opened for civil engineers, construction cost estimators, hazard mitigation outreach specialists and many other positions.
The government is mobilized and contractors are scrambling in every direction. But as Gordy Bunch, board chairman of The Woodlands Township recently told a group of residents, all of that will come up short. There is so much damage that the rosiest scenario for a quicker recovery means neighbor helping neighbor, volunteering their own time and labor.
April Bruce, a human resources employee at IBTX Risk Services understood that instinctively. IBTX provides insurance and HR services to general contractors and Bruce was very familiar with Gulf Coast contractors through the company.
She was planning a Labor Day long weekend in her home state of Kentucky.
“It’s amazing what one Facebook post will turn into,” Bruce said.
She had posted that she was going to rent a U-Haul and return to Texas with donated supplies. The post went viral and a group in Elizabethtown donated a loaded tractor-trailer. A second tractor-trailer came from Madisonville. One Kentucky town even allocated a cattle hauler to move cattle in Bay City.
Bruce feels blessed that her company encourages volunteerism and even provides paid time off for workers willing to use the day to provide emergency relief. Her team coordinated with ABC Mid Coast Chapter members and first responders in Woodsboro, Aransas Pass, “all those little areas that were kind of being neglected,” she said.
On Friday Sept. 15, Bruce was planning her second weekend trip to the coast.
“I’ll be going to Woodsboro and Seadrift to help with clean-up.”