Detroit Area Businesses Gear Up For Post-Flood Recovery

By Zlati Meyer, Detroit Free Press
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 13--It can't be too good when an insurance agent uses the word "triage."

But that's the word Lisa Vilella of Farm Bureau Insurance in Woodhaven used to describe how she's handling the influx of calls she's been fielding.

Insurance brokerages are just one type of business seeing a huge influx of panic, as metro Detroiters try to recover from Monday's devastating storm. Getting an adjuster on the phone is generally the first step to rebuilding after a flood of this magnitude, followed by calls to restoration companies, mechanics, hardware stores and dry cleaners.

Vilella was up at 4 a.m. Tuesday, when she started getting text messages from panicked clients who have her personal cell phone number.

"Call your agent to find out where you stand. Do you have coverage on your policy? Some people think there's automatically coverage and it's not," she explained. "If a basement's going to flood and a street's going to flood, what can you do? Sandbags?"

The answer is not much.

Once water damage has been done, the key is trying to salvage what you can. That's when homeowners turn to the professionals, such as Eastpointe-based McCoy Services, which dries out basements and removes any material beyond ruin.

Twenty trucks, half a dozen of which do water extraction, spent Tuesday traversing the firm's Macomb-Wayne-Oakland-St. Clair coverage area, according to co-owner Jeff McCoy. His clean-up jobs include employing fans and dehumidifiers and assessing moisture in the walls.

"It all hit at once. My phones blew up. Calls have been coming in since 6 p.m. (Monday)," said the 30-year veteran of the industry Tuesday. "People are trying to figure where to go from here. This is unfortunately one of those times where there was so much water that people couldn't even get into the service (area). We're trying to get our trucks there, but roads closed. There was so much flooding last night that you couldn't do anything with the water. As soon as you get the water out, more comes in. Plumbers and restoration (crews) were on standby until the water stopped coming."

For those who chose to handle the destroyed lower level of their homes themselves, it was off to the DIY hotspots. Hardware stores like Reindel True Value in Fraser saw an uptick in purchases of pumps, carpet dryers, fans and hoses as early as 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

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"They're in a hurry, because there's water in the basement. They want it done," said owner Charlie Reindel, describing his customer's mental states.

And once that's taken care of, it's details, details, details -- what to do about wet drapes, water-soaked luggage stores in the basement and stuffed animals in the downstairs playroom.

"We've gotten some calls today. For the most part, people are thinking how to get water out of their basements. When that happens, their thoughts turn to 'What do I do with all the things affected?' What's left over is soggy material," said Jeff Schultz, vice president of the Berkley-based Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network, on Tuesday.

But post-disaster action doesn't always happen quickly.

"It's been hotly debated for 200 years what a flood is. Any inundation of a normally dry land area is a flood. I don't agree with that. Neither does the U.S. Geological Survey. Insurance companies usually invoke exclusionary language," said Craig Becker, executive vice president of Globe Midwest Adjusters International in Southfield. "The insurance industry -- I hate to say is underwater -- will be inundated. It may take a couple days to get a call back from an adjuster. They're going to have thousands of claims reported. Insurance companies only have so many adjusters in who are able to handle it ... Make sure your claim is reported to the agent and hope for the best."

Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or zmeyer@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @ZlatiMeyer

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