As Hurricane Floyd swept up the East Coast Sept. 15-18, many wholesalers in the affected states, especially North Carolina and Virginia, are readying their branches to help residents who lost homes and businesses with the cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

"We estimate that we have lost almost $2 million in sales due to these disruptions," said John E. Gullett, vice president/corporate communications at Newport News, Va.-based Noland Co. "At the same time, our branches in the affected areas are expediting shipments from vendors for products and supplies needed in the cleanup and rebuilding process."

Such supplies include water heaters, water pumps, sewage pumps, heating and air-conditioning units, and flex duct and other heating accessories. He added that branches are also operating under extended hours to accommodate the demands of its customers who are involved in cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

"We expect to see an increased demand for our products and services for the next several months as eastern North Carolina recovers from the worst natural disaster in the state's history," Gullett told Supply House Times. "Meanwhile, we are simply doing everything within our power to help our branch communities recover from this devastating storm."

The Associated Press published estimates of $117.3 million in damages in Florida, which escaped the full brunt of the storm, and damages of $131 million in Virginia; $100 million in New Jersey; and $7.9 million in Maryland.

At last count, more than 70 people died during Floyd.

But the most destructive aspect of Hurricane Floyd seems to be the resultant flooding, especially in eastern North Carolina, where damages are estimated to be $1.3 billion at press time.

Wholesalers spared major damage

Many of the wholesalers in Floyd's path weathered the storm without substantial losses, but flooding still remains a problem in some areas.

"Hughes Supply was fortunate in escaping extensive damage from the recent hurricane," said Stewart Hall, president and COO of Orlando, Fla.-based Hughes. "Our facility in Rocky Mount, N.C., was hit by a flash flood, which damaged trucks, furniture and equipment, inventory and the building. Telephone and computer systems were inoperable for a period of time and the cleanup has been difficult."

Cleanup has been complicated by the need for special precautions because the floodwaters were contaminated, he said. The Hughes branches in Kinston and Goldsboro, N.C., were also affected by flooding but did not sustain significant property damage.

"We realize that our neighbors depend on us to help them get the materials needed to restore their homes and businesses," Hall said. "We are making every effort to move materials from our branches not affected by this storm to the devastated areas."

Hughes is reviewing and evaluating the effectiveness of its procedures, including those for recovering operations after the storm, he said. "We have already held one post-storm meeting to critique all phases of our emergency preparedness plan. Suggestions from the group are being reviewed and fine-tuned in preparation for the next emergency situation."

Gullett said that Floyd and the resulting flooding disrupted operations in more than 30 of Noland's branches. A dozen Florida branches either shut down early or closed for the day on Sept. 14.

"Some 15 branches in North and South Carolina were closed for at least a day on Sept. 15 or Sept. 16 - some even longer," he said. "These branches reopened at various times over the next several days, except for our unit in Goldsboro, N.C., which remained closed until Sept. 21. Many branches also lost telephone service."

He noted that by Sept. 22, all Noland branches were open, with some in eastern North Carolina still operating with less than full manpower and with limited delivery capabilities due to flooded roads. The most severely affected locations were North Carolina branches in Kinston, Greenville and Goldsboro.

Much the same story was reported at Ferguson Enterprises of Newport News, Va. The company reported some damage in its three regions along the East Coast, including a substantial amount of wind and water damage, said spokeswoman Ginny Mejia.

Those affected most were its Greenville, N.C., satellite locations.

"There are a few associates who personally had damage at home - mostly water damage," Mejia said.

A number of the firm's branches lost electrical power and phone service for as long as 1-1/2 days. Some closed early in preparation for Floyd, including the firm's corporate headquarters.

"We're very pleased that the damage to our branch locations was minimal," Mejia said. She added that it was too early for Ferguson to start assessing damage and rebuilding efforts. Wilmington, N.C.-based Coleman Supply Co. was shut down for two days, but operations are now 100% at its headquarters and Southport location, President Chick Coleman said.

He added that, because of millions of dead farm animals contaminating the water supply, his company is stocking up on water filtration units that will provide purified drinking water. Coleman said he plans to sell the filtration units at cost.

Air conditioning, heating and refrigeration distributor Watsco, based in Miami, also ran into obstacles at several of its operations during and after Floyd. The hurricane temporarily closed nearly 60 locations, slowed contractor activity due to severe rains and flooding and has diminished overall new construction activity. Consequently, the firm anticipates slowed growth rates of sales and earnings for the third quarter due, in part, to Floyd and lower demand for air conditioning.

Spike in spending temporary

According to an article in the Washington Post, a storm such as Hurricane Floyd can "send ripples through the local economy as [area] residents open their pocketbooks to rebuild, restock, clean up or just plain cope with the storm's aftermath."

The article quoted Douglas Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina who studied the fiscal effect of 1989's Hurricane Hugo on the Southeast.

"There's a real spike in consumer spending," he said, as victims replenish their pantries and buy supplies to clean up the mess.

Experts warn that such spending habits are short-lived, except for the construction and contracting industries, which tend to be the big winners after any substantial storm.

Woodward noted that the net effect of a natural disaster is always negative, even in construction. After that first surge of rebuilding, spending levels drop below average.