After the waters started receding from last week’s historic floods in the Midlands, several businesses saw an increased demand for their services. They included home cleanup, car rentals and home improvement. Here’s a look at several companies.
In a typical week, the SERVPRO of Cayce/West Columbia and Lexington handles about 15 jobs, some of them for emergency pumping of water from a basement pipe burst or maybe a malfunctioning washing machine.
Since the floods, the third-generation, family-owned business in South Congaree has averaged 15 jobs a day, sump-pumping water out of living rooms and kitchens, drying out – or as industry standards dictate – stripping out soaked carpeting to make way for water damage restoration work to begin.
The phone calls started early Sunday morning and increased as the day wore on, according to Tia Williams, who co-owns the SERVPRO with her brother, Taylor Williams. “By the end of the day we had three or four people here,” Williams said. “And really, that first day is just taking calls. We had about 120 or so jobs input into the spreadsheet by the end of the night.”
The SERVPRO, which has franchise territorial rights extending from Batesburg-Leesville and Chapin to Gaston and Swansea, spent the next day tarping roofs that were so damaged by wind and rainfall that water was coming in, pumping out water, drying out interiors and performing other first-response tasks.
Any water entering a building stalls the clean-up process, of course. Williams said the ice storm of 2013 provided a road map for responding to calls for assistance last week. “The concerns are, ‘What do I do first,’” Williams recounted. “We talk them through shutting the power off. Making sure there isn’t water standing next to anything valuable. We talk them through the process of understanding they can mitigate some things themselves.”
Normally, SERVPRO adheres to a “1-4-8” policy, Williams said. They return calls to a customer in one hour, are on site within four hours and have a briefing to the adjuster within eight hours. “We are way ahead of that. But this situation you just have to do the best you can.”
Property owners typically have to put up half the initial estimate of the job to be done, just to help with the cost of business, Williams said. “In our business, you make the most impact by responding quickly. If water sits for 20 minutes compared to two days, you’re talking thousands of dollars of difference in the cost of the project.”
Renting a car in Columbia has been anything but routine since the floods. Because of the number of cars damaged by the floods, it’s been mostly impossible.
Reservation calls to rental agencies in town will at best land the caller on a waiting list. If you don’t have a reservation already, the wait may be unknown.
At Enterprise Car Rental, agents taking reservation calls said they were “sold out.” Area franchises have been sold out since Sunday, the agents said. The local agents could not say when cars would be available again.
“The situation is, we’re putting together as many cars as we can,” said Laura Bryant, Enterprise spokeswoman in St. Louis. “Certainly people who already have reservations will get a car.”
Enterprise, which is the holding company for National Car Rental and Alamo, is also making cars available to first responders who are coming into town to help and insurance adjusters who are coming into town.
“In addition, we are bringing in more than 2,000 new cars in the next few days, probably even more before this is over,” Bryant said Friday. Enterprise has 6,000 locations across the country from which it can bring cars into South Carolina, Bryant said.
Agents at Budget Car Rental in Columbia also said they had no cars immediately available Friday. Corporate spokesmen did not return calls for comment on Friday.
Hertz Car Rental and Car Sales said it, too, is bringing cars into Columbia to meet the unusual demand.
“We are experiencing high levels of demand and are making every effort to bring cars into the area from nearby cities and surrounding states,” said Anna Bootenhoff, Hertz’ corporate communications manager.
Tony Thompson, a veteran general contractor in Columbia, woke up last Sunday to six feet of water in his basement.
His first move was to get the water out, then keep things dry until he could work on repairs. That’s the same course of action he has taken on the reams of calls his business has gotten since the floods hit.
“We’re busy,” said Thompson, owner of Remodeling Services Unlimited in Columbia. ”We’re getting as much work as we need – more than we can handle, actually.”
Remediation – the process of getting homes and businesses dried out – has been the first big issue in the aftermath of the flood, Thompson said. The flood’s effect to his business is they are busier than normal. But, “The effect on our customers is tremendous. The biggest thing I could say to those who need help is to make sure they do their homework on who they hire.”
The flood waters that plague Columbia contain silt and other substances that Thompson said will do serious harm to a structure later if they are not professionally handled in this early stage of cleanup. “This is a bigger thing than people think,” he said. “If they don’t do it right now, they’re going to regret it later.
“In not too far into the near future, they’ll have even more problems with mold and the like if they don’t get a professional who knows what to do exactly.”
Thompson, who has been in the commercial and residential remodeling business in Columbia since 1980, said he thought he knew a lot about the business, but this storm has taught him new things. “I’ve dealt with a lot of water damage before, but the intensity and the amount of water that was brought into people’s houses and businesses and underneath their houses and businesses is greater than we’ve ever had.”
The type of water also is different, Thompson said. The silt and contaminants in flood water render problems beyond the effects that moisture from a burst pipe would normally produce. “The first thing I tell people is get your carpet out of the house if it got wet. Pull it up, get it out, or call us. We’ve been doing a lot that since the flood – just trying to help people.”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398