Iowa contractors recover from floods

Aug. 1, 2008
At least one contractor who fell victim to the Iowa floods in mid-June predicted it will take more than a year for the company to fully recover.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa — At least one contractor who fell victim to the Iowa floods in mid-June predicted it will take more than a year for the company to fully recover.

Krall Plumbing had just moved to a new location here six months before the flooding, according to Deb Krall, wife of owner Don Krall.

“We're not even thinking about putting our office back in the shop for over a year because it is going to take us that long to get everything cleaned up and then try to build up some money,” she said. “We had just finished remodeling it, and now we have to tear it all out.”

When the rains began, a surveyor told Deb and her husband the water would never overpower the 3-ft. high wall of sandbags in front of their business. By the time it was all over, the couple ended up with 6 ft. of water inside their building.

Deb Krall said her husband knew something was wrong when water started shooting up through cracks in the shop's floor after only about 10 minutes.

“When he came out, water was over the sandbags,” she said. “It was running over the top of them, and there was no water when he went in.”

While the couple was able to salvage all of their computers and bookwork, the business lost three vehicles as well as a pipe-cutting machine and other important material, Krall said.

“We quit keeping track of (the damages) at $180,000, and that didn't even go into a lot of the hand tools,” she said.

Schaal Heating and Cooling in Des Moines fared slightly better. When the Des Moines River's levy broke, it dumped a little more than 6 ft. of water into the company's building, according to Roger Fouche, the company's president and owner.

However, Fouche said lessons learned during similar flooding in 1993 helped lessen the impact of this year's deluge. Fouche recalled that in 1993, his business had only about six hours of notice before flooding began. This year, the company knew about the potential risks five to six days ahead of time, he said.

“We've been through it before and we were a little better prepared this time,” he said.

Fouche said the advanced warning allowed his company to relocate all essential materials to another location or to a second floor. The contractor now is remodeling after gutting the water damaged office building.

“As bad as it is, I still consider us pretty lucky,” Fouche said. “If we would have had another 8 or 10 ft., then basically my building would have disappeared under water.”

Fouche estimated the building suffered $125,000 to $150,000 in damages.

Despite the devastation, both Fouche and Krall said business remains brisk. Krall said a jobsite trailer currently serves as a temporary location while her family's business gets back on its feet. She added that the company receives much of its work from residents who also suffered flood damage.

“A lot of people are trying to get back into their homes as soon as they can,” she said adding, “We're keeping busy. Hopefully they'll pay.”

Fouche again credited early warning of the floods for helping his business to continue operating throughout the ordeal. By planning ahead, the contractor was able to dispatch all calls for the following week, well before the levy broke.

“One of my fears was that in 1993, the cell phones went down,” Fouche said. “This year, we didn't have that problem, so we were still in good communication with everybody. The inconvenience has been having to relocate our office temporarily.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers no assistance to small businesses affected by the flooding, and the U.S. Small Business Association offers loans at what Fouche called “an unreasonable rate of 8%.” Yet Fouche remains optimistic.

“We're fortunate enough that we're a pretty stable company and are solid financially,” he said. “We'll survive again and carry on.”

Krall, meanwhile, said she is hoping for local assistance in the form of a grant rather than an additional loan.

“We can't afford another loan because then we've got to raise our prices,” she said. “We do work for a lot of the people who were affected by the flood, and we can't raise our prices or we'd be out of business.”

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