PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. — It may be that Americans need a natural disaster every once in awhile to bring them together. It may create the realization that we all need to pull together because we're all in the same boat. That was the case when Hurricane Charley hit the Gulf Coast of Florida on Friday the 13th of August. It will be the case again after Frances finally leaves the state over the Labor Day weekend.
Pulling as hard as anyone in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley were members of the PHC industry.
Mike Buchanan left his business, Buchanan Plumbing & Heating, Virginia Beach, Va., loaded up a truck with 11 generators and 11 5-gal. gas cans, and headed to North Port, Fla.. He headed back home after a couple of days when he realized that all he could do was help serve food, not help rebuild.
"The only thing you can say is, "Oh, my God," Buchanan said. [ The destruction] is around every bend. It's a heart wrenching situation."
Buchanan said that people need cash the most, and he recommended making donations to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army and specifying that the money is for hurricane relief.
Buchanan noted that new houses built to stricter hurricane standards had the least amount of damage.
"The housing that fared better was the newer houses up to the code with hurricane straps on the roofing or a heavier roof of slate or cemented tile," he said. " The roof caps on those would come off. Those houses were around waterways and were the more expensive houses. On the other side of the street you'd have trailers and those were eliminated. Tractor-trailers were turned over on their tops. Girders and I-beams were twisted like pretzels."
Buchanan said he had heard stories from people in the area that insurance adjusters would write checks to homeowners for repairs, but then local authorities would condemn their houses, leaving them with nothing to repair.
Bob Rizzi, Bob Rizzi Plumbing, Sarasota, said he had read in the newspapers that 40% of the houses in the areas hit by Charley were being condemned.
Inveterate football tailgater Rizzi hooked up his giant grill trailer and drove with 20 volunteers to Arcadia, Fla., where they cooked for 1,400 people. Rizzi and friends cooked hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and beans and provided water, soda and ice along with a few toiletry items. Quite a few people told Rizzi that his was the first hot meal they had eaten in two or three days.
"The construction industry in particular and the plumbing industry are glad to do our part," Rizzi said. "So many people from all the coastal towns are going inland to help these people. The only thing we can be thankful for is that we didn't have a direct hit on us and we were able to help them."
Rizzi said that his personal opinion is that Florida needs an alternative to mobile homes as affordable housing because, "they didn't stand a chance."
McDonough Plumbing, Port Charlotte, Fla., helped out its affected employees, said Bonnie Robbins, office manager.
"The first day after the hurricane, Monday, whatever employees came in, we divided them up into work crews and asked all of them that had damage what they needed to have fixed," Robbins said. "A lot of them needed roofs and had water damage. They hauled away debris and cut down trees. A couple people lost homes and we sent people over to get their furniture and we found storage areas for them to store it."
'We can be thankful that we didn't have a direct hit so we were able to help them.'
Robbins rode out the storm in a steelframe house designed in Galveston, Texas, to withstand hurricanes. The house stayed standing, but her roof needs to be replaced.
"Most people have not seen claims adjusters," she said. "My husband and I are trying to get estimates to replace our roof and they're three to four weeks out giving estimates — not doing the work, just giving estimates. I hope to have the house back in shape by Christmas."
McDonough Plumbing lost part of its roof and sheds attached to the side of its building were ripped away, said Blythe McDonough.
"Our biggest hassle was every single truck had windows damaged and were unable to be driven until they were replaced," McDonough said. "The wind also bent our 40-ft. sign, it had so much force. The ability to have communication, the dedicated employees and great friendships with other business owners like Meyer and Gabbert Excavating Contractors, and Craig Pynn Custom Metal Roofing, who showed up on Saturday and Sunday to get us open by Monday morning. We had one of our general contractors, Steve Cummings from Cape Haze Windward Partnership, showed up offering us his generator and he had a relative in the auto glass business so he took down all of the information for each truck and sent it to them so they were getting it ordered before most people had even assessed their damage."
Traci Martin, executive director of the Florida Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors, noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was bringing 10,000 trailers to Florida for temporary housing, but that hooking them up for water, sewer and electricity would be a major task. At press time it's not known how the trailers weathered Hurricane Frances.
"We live in paradise," said McDonough, "but this time we had to pay the piper."