When Hurricane Katrina threatened
the Gulf Coast, Barry Gollott with Barry’s
U-Pull-It in Gulfport, Mississippi, Chad Counselman
with Counselman Automotive Recycling in Mobile,
Alabama, and Dale Ladner with Biloxi Auto Recycling
in Biloxi, Mississippi, knew how to prepare. They
have been through the drill many times before.
The three quickly took steps to protect their
employees and property. They worked with their
employees to secure anything that would likely
blow away. This meant pulling front-end assemblies
down from outdoor storage racks and securing them,
and tying hoods shut on hundreds of vehicles.
They also latched and locked building and garage
Chad, who had lost a solid metal
gate and carport in prior storms, secured heavy
equipment to his gates and carport. (This time,
they stayed put.) He also made back-up copies
of his computer records and secured them off site.
Counselman Automotive Recycling has
about a dozen buildings at its three locations
in Alabama. One building sustained roof damage.
Some Counselman employees had damage to their
homes. Chad gave them paid time off to handle
emergency repairs. Employees who didn’t
have damage at home helped clear debris and trim
trees at work.
Unable to reach other automotive
recyclers by phone, Chad sent one of his drivers
to Mississippi to view the damage. “The
situation there was worse than what we were dealing
with,” Chad says.
Counselman employees began gathering
clothing and supplies for Mississippi families.
“They emptied their closets and took supplies
to two Mississippi salvage yards every other day
for about three weeks,” Chad says. They
helped three families get back on their feet.
Things were bad in Mississippi.
Eight days after the storm, Dale returned to Biloxi
Auto Recycling with a limited crew. There was
no power, so they used generators to run phones
and computers. A section of the warehouse roof
had structural damage, some showroom ceiling tiles
were ruined, and a wooden fence was blown down.
Dale says he didn’t have much damage in
the yard or at his home.
However, many of his employees’
homes were damaged. One employee whose home was
completely destroyed is temporarily living in
Barry faces the same issues in
Gulfport. The storm destroyed the fence surrounding
his property and blew the roof off a storage building.
His employees are scattered all over, living with
relatives and friends. The manager of his Gulfport
facility had a dozen people living with him for
about six weeks after the storm.
Katrina washed away Barry’s
beach-front condo in Biloxi. He’s living
in a trailer until he can rebuild. Still, Barry,
who is a native of the area, wouldn’t think
of living anywhere else. “I’m not
moving,” he says.
Sales are up, but employees
Initially, Dale was concerned about
the future of his business, because New Orleans
is one of his biggest markets. Things have gone
better than he expected. “October was the
second-highest sales month in our history,”
Barry’s sales were up in
October, too, and he could use some help handling
the business. “Every business on the coast
needs workers. We are short of help, but we’ll
get through it,” he says.
He attributes the employee shortage
to several things: some workers were evacuated,
many went to work for FEMA, and some simply haven’t
returned to work yet for various reasons.
A couple of Barry and Dale’s
employees quit to take jobs with FEMA. “When
you’re paying guys $8-$9 an hour to pull
parts and FEMA will hire them for $12 an hour
to hold an orange flag, it’s tough to compete,”
There is still a lot of cleaning and
rebuilding ahead for the Gulf. Dale is optimistic
that the area will bounce back. “We’re
tough,” he says.
Barry shares that optimism. “Every
day it gets a little better,” he says. “Something
gets cleaned up, another restaurant opens, and
another gas station opens. Five years from now
we’ll be better off than before the storm.”