Out from under the waterBusinesses assess damage; cleanup from historic flooding under way
Trash bins filled to the brim sat in driveways, on sidewalks and in parking lots Monday as midstate property owners continued to line streets with waterlogged carpets, appliances and other interior items after last week's historic flood.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared a disaster for 19 Pennsylvania counties with preliminary damage assessments still under way in other areas. Emergency management officials are projecting months of restoration work from what is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars in regional damage from Tropical Storm Lee.
In Dauphin County alone, the early damage estimate is more than $52.7 million for business and residential properties, said Stephen Libhart, director of the county's emergency management agency. That included six destroyed businesses and more than 100 others impacted in some way by flooding.
"We were clearly one of the heavier hit counties," Libhart said, noting that the brunt of the damage was in the southern part of the county, in Derry Township, Hummelstown and Lower Swatara Township.
On Monday, a muddy residue lingered on roadways in that area that were inundated by the Swatara Creek days earlier. Two Derry Township chain restaurants remained dormant, with windows boarded and surrounded by caution tape.
In neighboring Hummelstown, crews continued to remove the mud-covered contents of the Hoss's Steak and Sea House, just off Route 322, that was engulfed by more than 6 feet of water.
"Everything in the building was ruined," said Billie Jo Walls, a spokeswoman for the Blair County-based restaurant chain. "Nothing significant could be salvaged."
Hoss's has been a part of the community for 19 years. The company hopes to be able to reopen in Hummelstown or in a nearby location, Walls said. The flood damage left 60 people without jobs.
On the West Shore, New Cumberland was among the hardest hit areas as both the Yellow Breeches Creek and Susquehanna River smacked downtown businesses and homes, including many on Bridge Street.
Several restaurants and other small businesses were decimated, including Olde Towne Beverage. Water rose as high as the check-out counter and destroyed equipment and much of the beer distributor's inventory.
"It's a total loss," said owner Marcus Grace, who was just starting to sift through the damage. "The whole place needs to be gutted."
In Lancaster County, the Chiques Creek caused more than $1 million in damage to the Hondru Group's automotive dealerships in Manheim.
Hondru Chevrolet of Manheim had about 3 feet of water in the showroom and in the repair shop. Hondru Ford of Manheim had a foot in the showroom and about 18 inches in the shop, President Peter Hondru said.
"We lost about 100 (vehicles)," he said, adding that 120 others were moved offsite before the water rushed in.
Building damage has been estimated at about $250,000 between the two properties, while the contents of the facilities added up to about $500,000, Hondru said.
Hondru was operating at limited capacity since Saturday as wet walls were being torn out and other damaged areas were being addressed.
The dealerships last were affected by flooding in 1972 during Hurricane Agnes, Hondru said.
"The whole town was in water. Anything near the stream was under water," he said. "It's really discouraging to see it happen like that. We did everything we could."
Other business officials such as P.J. Dempsey, president of Lackawanna County-based Dempsey Uniform and Linen Supply, said the end of last week was pretty chaotic for business.
The company's Highspire location had never had water in the building, he said. The closest was during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Dempsey employees spent Sept. 7 and 8 moving equipment and supplies out of the building as projections about the Susquehanna River's crest level were rising, Dempsey said.
The business took on about 11 inches of water, with the offices taking the brunt of the damage, he said. Production also had to be shut down Friday morning at the company's Sunbury facility, Dempsey said, as bridges were closed because of concern the river would breach the flood wall.
Like other delivery companies in the area, Dempsey was forced to make up scheduled deliveries over the weekend and Monday.
For restoration companies such as Ephrata-based Compleat Restorations, the phone hasn't stopped ringing since Sept. 7, co-owner Lucy Ellis said.
"There has been an influx of calls, one after the other," she said.
By Monday morning, their call volume was in the hundreds. Flood victims were calling in from across South Central Pennsylvania, Ellis said.
Compleat Restorations has a backlog of work that might take several months to address, she said. And at this point, it could be a week or two before crews get out for an estimate, she added.
"You run out of people and equipment," she said.
Compleat is part of Disaster Kleenup International, a Chicago-based network of disaster restoration companies. A lot of temporary help has arrived in the area to address flood problems, Ellis said.
Restoration crews already were busy servicing customers from Hurricane Irene last month.
"We have never had this kind of volume before," she said, adding they have been in business since 1978. "It's so sad. It's heartbreaking."
Flood-affected businesses have options for help
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: With the president's disaster declaration, business owners who sustained flood losses can begin applying for assistance online at www.disasterassistance.gov, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Low-interest disaster loans are available for property loss and economic injury. For more information, call www.sba.gov, or call 1-800-659-2955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- United Way of the Capital Region: A dedicated flood recovery fund has been started to support service agencies in Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties. Donations will be accepted through Nov. 1 to help nonprofits that need it most, said Joseph Capita, the organization's president and CEO. To donate, checks should be made payable to: The Capital Region Flood Recovery Fund, 2235 Millennium Way, Enola, PA 17025. Gifts also are being accepted at the United Way's website, www.uwcr.org. Click the "Give" button and then the "Make a Payment" button. For more information, call 717-732-0700.