Photo courtesy of Ferguson.

Recent tornadoes left a path of damage across the lower Midwest and southern states, affecting some distributors’ facilities. A report by catastrophe risk management consultantsEqecatfound that most of this season’s tornadoes hit rural areas, although a few of these were responsible for significant life losses and property damage. Another Eqecat report following the record-setting EF5 tornado that hit Joplin, MO, on May 22 said that preliminary insured losses could be as high as $3 billion. The company also reported that nearly one quarter of the city’s buildings had been destroyed and one-half to three-quarters suffered wind damage.

AlthoughWinWholesale’s Joplin Winnelson location (Joplin, MO) remained untouched when a tornado destroyed parts of the community, the company said that it had taken steps to help locals and employees recover from personal damage. During the nine minutes of tornado activity, more than 8,000 homes and apartment units in addition to more than 500 commercial properties were heavily damaged or destroyed, AIR Worldwide reported. The National Weather Service reported an estimated 138 fatalities and more than 1,100 injured in the Joplin area as of June 2.Kevin Chandler, president of the Winnelson branch, said the company has helped the community by handing out bottled water and helping them move their belongings. He noted that a return to normal business activity will depend on the length and extent of the cleanup process. “This tragedy has changed the town so drastically [that] it could be years before we actually know,” he said.

Brauer Supply Co.’s Joplin location also was destroyed, the company said in a release. They have diverted the location’s telephones to its Springfield, MO, location.

The Home Depot Foundationannounced in May that it will provide the Joplin community with $1 million for immediate relief, recovery and long-term rebuilding efforts, according to a company release. “As we learned through our work in the Gulf after similar destruction from Katrina, the rebuilding will take years,” saidFrank Blake, chairman and CEO of The Home Depot.

TheAmerican Supply Associationhad not yet been contacted directly about companies needing assistance, but many member companies take care of each other in disaster-type situations, according toBen Stephens, ASA’s director of marketing and communications.

“Our members work relatively quietly and they take care of their own … [they] communicated with each other and without making too much of a spark over it,” he said.

Earlier this spring,Ferguson’s branch in Raleigh, NC, suffered extensive damage after a tornado hit while customers were in the showroom. “When something like this is happening in your store, you feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to keep everyone safe,” saidMike Cassidy, the location’s operations manager.

Cassidy was able to move his customers and employees to safety, but the building suffered extensive wind and water damage. Ferguson relocated the branch to a nearby temporary office space and warehouse where it was operable within two weeks of the storm. Showroom customers were being sent to the company’s Chapel Hill, NC, location until the 4,000-sq.-ft. Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Preview Center opened (scheduled for late June).

Meanwhile, the company said it is reconstructing its old location to feature a warehouse, counter and redesigned showroom, which it hopes to open in early fall.

Ferguson facilities were hit again on April 27, this time at its Fire & Fabrication branch in Guntersville, AL. Due to the extent of the damage, business was routed through the company’s Birmingham, AL, branch, while information technology communications were set up on-site through the company’s “Branch in a Box” mobile network. The location was already closed because of the storms, so no employees or customers were in the building.

“All in all, we are lucky,” saidSharon Cooper, general manager at the Raleigh branch. “We had no loss of life. We lost our roof, not our talent. Our new house will be awesome and our customers rallied with us.”

- By Hallie Busta