August 22/29, 2016; Volume 31, Number 5
By Ken Ryan
While many flooring retailers located in the flood-ravaged areas of Louisiana report their businesses were unscathed by the recent deluge, scores of employees suffered significant property losses. A report from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber estimated that roughly 110,000 homes, valued at $20.7 billion, were flooded because they were located in neighborhoods where water pooled.
Workers at Halpin’s Flooring America, with two stores in flood-plagued Baton Rouge and one in Gonzalez, were hit particularly hard. Although none of the stores took on water, about 30% of the employees lost property—in some cases entire homes and vehicles. For a time, Larry Thibodeaux, general manager, was unable to contact employees or installation crews to see if they were safe.
“We were trying to get a gauge of the situation; our business was at a standstill for a while,” Thibodeaux told FCNews. “It has been a crazy situation here. The magnitude of the damage down here is just unreal.”
Thibodeaux said one of his installers got out of his vehicle to try to rescue an elderly couple from the rising floodwaters. When he returned, his vehicle had been swept away. At least three of his employees lost both their homes and vehicles, and yet they returned to work almost immediately. “Here they are staying with relatives, coming to work in borrowed vehicles, going out and doing estimates for us when they have lost everything. These are dedicated people.”
Halpin’s Flooring America has reduced store hours to accommodate those employees who need to meet with adjusters or who are trying to salvage the last vestiges of their houses. One Halpin’s employee who did not want to be named told FCNews, “There has not been one person here who has not been affected in some way. You cannot even imagine the devastation unless you were here, but the Halpin family has been wonderful throughout this ordeal.”
In Lafayette, La., Hollier’s Flooring America was similarly unscathed. However, in its market, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 homes were damaged. Buddy Hollier, owner, said his neighborhood received 22 inches of rain in a 27-hour span. “I have spent the last week and a half measuring in areas that have been affected. This is going to be a boon for my business but it is unfortunate that these circumstances have brought this on.”
Stuart Perque of Perque’s Flooring in Gretna, La., and Noel Maestri of Maestri Flooring America in Covington, La., were also fortunate that none of their businesses were damaged by the flooding. Perque’s is closer to New Orleans while Covington is about 30 miles from the closest affected area.
Both retail owners toured the devastated areas and are already lending a helping hand. For instance, Perque and his family, through Adopt a Family, are supporting a single mother and her 7-year-old child who lost everything in the flood. Maestri is giving money to individuals and churches to help in their rebuilding efforts. Maestri has also been working at a local school, tearing up damaged classrooms and redoing the flooring in hopes of getting the school up and running. His business is also working to restore some churches that have been flooded. Work on homes, however, is still months away, he noted.
Perque said this unnamed storm was not quite as big as Hurricane Katrina but the thing is it is isolated to a small demographic area whereas this flooding is about one third of the state. In a sad irony, he said scores of people moved from New Orleans after Katrina to Baton Rouge just to get out of the flood zones. And yet, it was this area that bore the brunt of the flooding. “They moved up there to get out of the flood zone and were told you don’t need flood insurance.” Perque estimated that about 80% of the residents in Baton Rouge did not have flood insurance.
Maestri and Hollier said they are upset that the national media incorrectly reported that these floods occurred in flood zones when, in fact, the vast majority of the rains occurred in non-flood areas. “It’s almost like the reaction nationally is, ‘You get what you deserve, living down there’ but that was not the case here,” Hollier explained. “When you get an inundation of 31 inches of rain in 15 hours, like what happened in Livingston Parrish, there is no where for the water to go.” He said one of his closest friends had a foot and a half of water—on the second floor of his home.
Several distributor locations serving Louisiana were also spared. But like many floor covering retailers based there, some employees were not. “Unfortunately, we did have one employee that had 5 feet of water in his home, and he lost his vehicle as well,” said Bob Eady, president of T&L Distributing, which has a branch location in Baton Rouge. “Additionally, we have two employees whose parents lost virtually everything from the flooding. The damage is indescribable. The people of Baton Rouge are suffering more than a story can possibly tell.”
The good news, according to Eady, is people are helping each other. “Different organizations and individuals are helping, donating time, money and materials as well. With 60,000 houses damaged, rebuilding will take a long time.”
Observers say this type of flooding damage does not provide immediate flooring business like it does for other trades. Before any flooring work can be done, homes have to be gutted. Drying of the interior and mold and moisture control also comes into play before any flooring work.
“I’m sure flooring sales will come later and be substantial, but it is not right to even think of that considering what our employees, their families, local dealers and friends are suffering through,” Eady said. “This flood will be nearly three times more devastating than Katrina and many parts of the Katrina disaster have not been rebuilt 10 years later.”