HOUSTON – (By Dale King) – Before the first drop of rain from Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area two months ago. Before the first gust of wind took out a wall, tree or roof in Key West on Sept. 10. Even before catastrophic Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico and neighboring islands with destructive power, a Fort Worth-based disaster recovery firm was positioning manpower and materiel for a massive post-storm cleanup.
Stacy Mazur, CEO of Fort Worth-based Interstate Restoration LLC, the second largest commercial building recovery company in North America, began sending pre-positioned work crews into devastated regions once winds started dying down and flood waters slowed.
“It will be a long recovery, but there are things we can do to help clients get back to normal operations sooner than they otherwise might,” he said. “People just have to be patient. There are no miracles, just hard work.”
Even after hurricanes crashed into southeast Texas and ripped along the entire Florida peninsula, Mazur probably didn’t realize how bad things would get. Before storm season would end, Hurricane Maria slashed across the Atlantic to smash Puerto Rico and neighboring islands. And just as workmen and subcontractors made a foothold on the obliterated Caribbean island, fires flared in California, threatening thousands of homes and people in the Napa Valley.
Interstate answered that call, too.
Founded nearly 20 years ago, Interstate Restoration has seen storm trouble like this before. But dealing with catastrophic weather making rapid-fire landfalls is still a daunting task.
“We were in close proximity when Harvey hit south of Houston,” said Mazur, whose firm operates out of 20 offices in the U.S. and another 35 through a sister company in Canada.
Still, the logistics of moving equipment from Corpus Christi through to Houston “were tough,” with many roads awash and bridges impassable.
In the Houston area, he said, Interstate dispatched repair crews mainly to multi-family homes that could not be occupied. “Thousands of units were flooded. We also had to deal with flooded car dealerships, hotels, fitness centers, a handful of banks, country clubs and post offices, a real mixed bag of damage.”
Just in Houston, Mazur said, Interstate Restoration’s trained repair crews dealt with 183 fixup projects. Now, some two months after Harvey’s passage, “we have been able to mitigate many of them. A handful of the larger losses will take another six to 12 months to repair.”
The cost of each, he said, runs from “several thousand dollars to $30 to $40 million.”
A lot of Houston businesses were restored quickly. Others may not be back to normal until next summer. “We are in the business of getting people back into business. Most of our clients are fully operational. We were able to wrap up some of the smaller projects in the first few weeks.”
Mazur noted that in Houston, his firm did not deal with any structures that were too seriously damaged to save. “We did not run across this in Houston. We did during Katrina.”
To put Houston back on its feet, he said the company brought in about 150 of its own workers and hired about 3,000 subcontractors. By subbing out much of the work, it was easier to get people and materials into areas of need.
“Our subcontractor base is fine. We have strong relationships with a lot of people that were hired as temporary help.”
Mazur said he expects 95 percent of repair work in the Houston area to be done by next year, though it may take until June or July. About 1,000 workmen will remain behind in the Southeast Texas area to facilitate the repairs.
Some of the delays, he noted, involve property owned by people who are waiting for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Looking back at the Houston situation, Mazur said his work crews stood side by side with people whose homes were destroyed and who lost virtually all of their goods. “We felt the personal and emotional impact, just like everyone else. It was just like the pictures we saw on TV.”
Storm damage can put a hard knock on the economy. Atlanta-based First Data Services announced in late October that it is closing its Telecheck Services division in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land because of storm damage to its offices. Telecheck, which employed hundreds of people, leases 90,000-SF in the Sugar Creek on the Lake building at 14141 Southwest Freeway. PM Realty Group says the building will be re-opened by mid-November.
Commenting on the other disaster restoration efforts this year, Mazur noted:
Florida: “We set up offices in the Tampa area and in Boca Raton. We had to deal with 221 projects. There were more projects than in Houston, but not as serious. Florida missed the big blow, but the damage went all the way from the Keys to the Carolinas. Most of the damage was in the Keys, on Captiva and Marco islands and in Naples. The larger projects were in the Fort Lauderdale-North Miami area. We are still working on the bigger resorts on Captiva and Marco islands. We should be wrapped up by Thanksgiving. A couple may take us until the New Year. We sent in 150 workers and added 500 subcontractors. Interstate is also working on the island of St. Thomas, which also received the brunt of Hurricane Irma.”
Puerto Rico: “We had to struggle with issues in Puerto Rico for a couple of weeks. We worked on some of the hospitality areas near the airport.”
Napa fires: “We are dealing with 100 projects. Phone service is spotty. We are not dealing with a lot of fire damage, but with buildings filled with smoke and soot. We are using a lot of air scrubbers.”