'Nothing Prepared Me For Hurricane Sandy'

In 26 years as a mobile distributor in the South Shore of Long Island, N.Y., nothing prepared me for Hurricane Sandy. The destruction that devastated the northeastern U.S. placed my business in disarray and left my future uncertain.

But I was lucky compared to many of my customers. Being a mobile distributor, I was able to move my inventory to a safe area before the hurricane struck in late October. Most of my customers were unable to prepare for the flooding that engulfed their shops and destroyed much of their equipment. Not to mention the loss of their own customers’ vehicles, the repair shops’ bread and butter.

The loss of electricity made life difficult for everyone in the afflicted areas. Some people had emergency power generators, but the lack of available gasoline made it hard for even those who had generators.

While I was able protect my assets by moving my truck to a place that didn’t suffer flooding, there was little many of my customers could do to avoid that very fate. This, in turn, delivered my own business a major setback. Half of my customers have been lost for good.

While my income took a hit, there was plenty of work to do. I spent a lot of time helping customers with loss quotes for insurance claims. Customers had to tally the value of all their electric tools and equipment, including meters, battery chargers, air conditioning equipment, scan tools, wheel balancers, etc. Anything with a circuit board was shot.

Most customers are not expecting much from their insurance carriers since regular business insurance doesn’t cover damage from natural disasters.

Snap-on extended my credit to help me help my customers. The company provided replacement tools at the flat rate. Snap-on also provided some apparel items to give to customers.

In the meantime, life remains a struggle.

Power companies would not reconnect electricity to properties until they could certify the circuit breaker panel was not contaminated with saltwater. Saltwater getting into circuit breaker panels caused many fires.

Having been spared the loss of my own assets, I felt a responsibility to do what I could for my customers, and this has not been easy.

Some shops had as many as 250 gallons of waste oil pour out of their drums and into the shop and the surrounding area. Toolboxes were recovered with two inches of saltwater-contaminated sludge.

The waves from the hurricane carried sand from some beaches inland for several blocks, piling three feet high.

Garbage piled as much as 15 feet high along some roads.

Long-term, there is some reason to be hopeful. Used car sales have increased. This could help my business since used cars require more service than new ones.

There is not much you can do to prepare for this type of disaster. The community was warned about the storm, and in response, they erected three-foot-high barriers along the coast. Many repair shop owners installed additional shelves in their buildings and elevated their tools and equipment three feet from the floor. None of this helped against five-foot and higher floodwaters.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to help my customers get back on their feet.