Despite the dramatic, waterlogged images repeatedly flashed by the media, distributors say the majority of the storm’s damage stemmed from its pervading power outages, combined with blocked roadways and limited access to public transit. As the water resceded, more than 8 million people in as many as 16 states were left in the dark, preventing most New England companies from moving on to business as usual.
According to preliminary analysis conducted by IHS Global Insights, a global markets and economic information provider, total economic losses could reach $50 billion — the second most expensive natural disaster to hit the United States after Hurricane Katrina — with the loss of business revenues exceeding infrastructure and property damages.
“Sandy caused widespread physical damage, but the bigger macroeconomic impact is likely to come from the virtual shutdown of business activity along key parts of the East Coast,” the firm stated in the report.
Even after gaining power with the help of back-up generators a few days after the storm, Ghen says Scoles Floorshine found itself stuck in gridlock.
“We couldn’t ship or receive because our customers were shut down,” Ghen says. “Ninety percent of our customers were without power. We did 10 percent [of business] compared to what we normally do.”
At Spruce Industries the outages lasted even longer.
“We didn’t get power for almost two weeks,” says Josephs. “We were working by flashlight, candlelight. We had no power to anything — phones, computers, lights. We basically could not function.”
A Setback, Then Another
Just days after the hurricane devastated the eastern seaports a nor’easter followed closely behind, laying a blanket of wet, heavy snow over the debris-strewn region. Though the “sucker punch storm” couldn’t match the muscle of Sandy, the cold conditions hindered thousands of clean-up and relief efforts.
Joseph’s describes those first few days as “cold and dark and frustrating.”
“For the first three days business was non-existent,” Josephs says. “We depend on people using things: soap, tissue, mops — that week disappeared. It was hard.”
After the storm, Josephs says employees sported winter coats in the office and resorted to old school business methods to complete transactions, such as handwriting orders on carbon paper. While some accounts were completely unreachable, Josephs said other customers were so desperate for supplies they were coming to the warehouse to pick them up.
In addition to the power outages and transportation barriers, businesses were also hampered by extensive gas shortages, caused by the storm’s fundamental shutdown of the area’s oil refineries and gas terminals. Residents stood with red gas cans in hand, sometimes for up to 12 hours, in lines that sometimes circled several blocks. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg enforced gas rationing to alleviate the congestion of vehicles swarming those stations fortunate enough to have fuel.
“The gas lines were enormous,” says Josephs, adding his employees were forced to resort to arithmetic to decide whether or not they could supply the accounts that were open. “We had to calculate the miles per gallon, how many miles one way, the stops we could make and the gas to get back. It was tough getting around.”
Michael Ofrias, president of Suffolk County Cleaning, Inc., in Greenlawn, N.Y., says a limited supply of gas prevented the company from re-stocking supplies in its warehouse, and thwarted employees from servicing several facilities that were functional.
“Many people completely ran out of gas,” Ofrias says. “I have never seen people cheer at the sight of a gas truck arriving.”
Even with gas, transportation was difficult or impossible, at least in those first few days. Some distributors’ employees were forced to stay with relatives in outside counties because of the power outages; others, including Josephs’ son and Spruce’s general manager, were stuck in Manhattan and other boroughs, because bridges and tunnels were closed.
But as soon as roadways were clear and gas tanks were full once again, distributors and their employees got right back to work.
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POSTED ON: 4/12/2013