January 2006

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 doors.

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.

The damage
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 Florida.

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 are scarce
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,” Dale says.

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,” Dale says.

Looking ahead
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.”

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