Glaziers Speak Out: One Year After Hurricane Katrina
Today marks the one-year anniversary of what has been coined the
nation's worst national disaster. Hurricane Katrina dramatically
altered life in the Gulf Coast states where it brought unprecedented
destruction, loss of life and an impact that is still being felt
in the region today. Here's what contract glazers say life is like
a year after surviving the storm.
In Gretna, La., on the west side of the Mississippi in Jefferson
Parish, Lydia Kass says it's been a heck of a year. Kass, owner
of Gretna Glass and Mirror Works, says her company has been inundated
with work since they reopened their business just two weeks after
Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005.
"Most of us in Gretna evacuated," recalls Kass, who in
December will celebrate 42 years of ownership of her company in
December. "The bulk of the damage to the structures in our
city was from wind and rain. Our levies held and we were spared
the many problems associated with rising floodwaters. Our roof,
which was only five years old, was gone and all of the electronics
in our building were ruined because of the rain."
"Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris encouraged every business owner
to return, and helped make it possible so that we could return quickly
and get our businesses up and running," continues Kass. "Mayor
Harris knew that if the businesses and their services returned so
would the residents."
Located just one mile from the county line and five miles from downtown
New Orleans, Gretna and other communities along the west bank have
been a hub of the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. Unlike colleagues
on the east side, many glass shops damaged or destroyed by the hurricane
have not reopened. "Like others in our business, we're a small
shop, but continue to do what we can to help with the rebuilding,"
says Kass, who has shifted their rebuilding efforts to the mouth
of the Mississippi. "We have temporarily stopped the 'pretty
stuff' like mirrors and custom shower enclosures and have focused
on getting people's homes and businesses secured and rebuilt."
"It's been tough," notes Kass, who was raised in New Orleans
and survived Hurricane Betsy in the mid-1960s. "I have never
seen anything like this. So many people lost everything and are
just getting tired and frustrated of fighting the insurance companies
and all the red tape. It's just taking a long time."
"We had a thriving full-service glass business before Hurricane
Katrina," explains Toby Dombrowski, owner of 3-D Glass in Gulfport,
Miss. "Today, we continue to work daylight to dusk, have doubled
our workforce and our fleet of vehicles and are handling four to
five times more work than we were before the hurricane."
"We are located about ten miles from the coast and this area
lost pretty much everything from the railroad tracks to the beach,"
added Dombrowski. "Some 60,000 homes were destroyed from Waveland
to Ocean Springs. We dropped our auto glass operations and [now]
concentrate solely on glass installation for the repair and rebuilding
of damaged homes and schools."
"While we weren't directly impacted by the hurricane, we have
felt the repercussions," says Allison Martin, who works for
Hart's Glass in Winnfield, a mid-size glazing company with three
locations serving northeast and north central Louisiana. "Even
though we are located about six hours north of the coast, the economy
in the entire region has been hit with price increases, surcharges
and a slower turn around time in terms of getting needed product.
So much of our state's resources and manpower have been directed
toward the clean-up and rebuilding efforts down south that we all
continue to pay the price from this natural disaster a year later."
"After Katrina we experienced incredible traffic and an influx
of glaziers looking for work in our area," explains Butch Kelley,
president of Architectural Building Systems, a mid-size commercial
glazing contractor serving the greater Houston area. "People
were looking for work and temporary housing--both of which were
in short supply. "Our workload was already heavy and we didn't
attempt to go into the affected areas for additional work."
John Robinson, an outside sales representative for AFG-Opelousas,
recently visited the greater New Orleans area and was surprised
at how much work remains to be done in the city. There's still debris
being removed and many areas look much like they did weeks after
the hurricane, it's really a mess there," says Robinson.
Robinson says a few of his customers, especially in the hardest
hit areas, have closed and he doesn't expect them to reopen. For
those that are rebuilding, they say realistically it will be three
to five years before they catch up.
"For us, we ship a lot more product to the south than we have
in the past and are keeping up with the demand," Robinson adds.
"Hurricane Katrina was a savior for many glass companies but
that salvation came with a high price for others in the region."
HERE to read the USA Today article "A year later, hearts
still heavy in New Orleans."
Watch for "Contract Glaziers Speak Out" every Tuesday
on USGNN. - Peggy Georgi
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