Flood, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes can strike at any time, often with little warning. Our hearts certainly go out to the recent earthquake victims in China and the tornado victims in Missouri, Oklahoma and Georgia.
It was also not too long ago that Hurricane Katrina caused severe devastation throughout the north central Gulf Coast and especially New Orleans.
Considered a Category 5 and the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, Katrina was the worst hurricane in U.S. history since 1928’s Okeechobee Hurricane and was responsible for more than $80 billion in damage.
When communities are hit so drastically with natural disasters, one of the biggest tasks is finding a company who can do the clean up.
“The biggest challenge is getting the labor out there because usually people are dealing with their own homes and situation,” explains Matt Sullivan, owner of Coastal Building Maintenance in Miami, FL.
“In 2006, we were involved with two major hurricanes—Wilma and Katrina. We had commercial properties that were hit pretty hard,” he says. “The key for us was getting the labor and to be able to transfer the debris. There was a lot of glass and debris. There was no electricity out there so we had to pick up people and bring them over there [to work].”
Sullivan says his team used wet/dry vacs, squeegees and carpet extractors for the water. “However, most of the equipment was used to pick up glass and debris, such as shovels and trash bins with wheels. for employee protection, we used heavy-duty gloves with protective eye wear. We also subcontracted a company that hauled away all the glass and debris to a nearby dump site.”
Maintenance Inc. of Fort Worth is another company that has first-hand experience with natural disasters. The Texas-based company was involved in the clean up of a tornado that pummeled downtown Fort Worth in May 2000.
Its first and only natural disaster clean-up job to date, Maintenance Inc. president Clint Maddux recalls, “We learned a lot during the tornado. We had wet/dry vacuums and floor fans stationed at all our properties in case of building floods, but the tornado required much more. All employees had to wear hard hats and cut-resistant protective gloves. There was an enormous amount of broken glass to be removed so shovels and heavy duty barrels were required as well. there wasn’t a large amount of water that needed to be extracted, so we were able to use the wet/dry vacuums to remove the smaller pieces of glass from the carpet and desk tops.”
Maddux explains that a tornado clean up is much more dangerous and extensive than a major building flood. “When we have a major building flood, it’s usually a water main or sewer line that has broken, which produces a large amount of water in a short amount of time. Building floods require a lot of manpower, wet vacuums, floor fans, air purifiers, sanitizers and usually have a clean-up time of less than a week, depending on the size of the flood.”
Conversely, a tornado takes much longer to clean up. In this case, it took nearly six months for Maddux and his team to get everything back to operational. “Our biggest challenge was the fact that we had several of our accounts affected by the tornado. We had managers and employees going from one property to another to assist in the clean up and most worked 12 to 14 hours a day.”
Maintenance Inc. had approximately 150 employees cleaning three high rises—one was 40 stories tall, another was 33 stories and the third was 30 stories. “The high rises had so much damage, it was unbelievable,” he recalls. one building had more than 1,200 windows knocked out.
Using commercial-sized shop vacs, Maddux adds “We had teams per levels of floors and three-foot-wide shovels. for the first three days, we were just picking up glass. We had crews that came in and worked side by side with the window companies.”
The bill for this six-month job was about $120,000. “That was for three high rises and also some smaller accounts that we had to help out with,” says Maddux. “We learned on the fly. we had a lot of help from our subsidiary companies. It was such a huge project we didn’t know where to start, so we just started at the top and worked our way down.”
For Sullivan and his team with Hurricane Wilma and Katrina, he says, “It took CBM weeks to clean up after the hurricanes. There was a specific downtown Miami building about 35 stories high that had all the windows blown in and furniture, papers and other debris thrown everywhere.”
With the Fort Worth tornado, what was especially amazing was that the Bass performance hall located downtown escaped damage.
Says a perplexed Maddux: “It sits right in the middle of where this tornado went through and didn’t get touched at all. Everything is just so magnificent on it and world class and it didn’t get touched.”