Hurricane Sandy’s Wrath: Wantagh, N.Y. mobile distributor loses his warehouse inventory but not his truck, allowing him to help customers recover

Dan Miller has found many benefits to being a mobile distributor in the 16 years he’s been doing it, but he never imagined he’d be using his truck to provide power to his home. That’s what he did following Hurricane Sandy in late October, when the largest Eastern Seaboard hurricane on record engulfed 1,100 miles of the Northeast.

Miller, a Snap-on distributor, was fortunate that his tool truck was parked in Wantagh, N.Y., an area on Long Island that escaped flooding. His home in Floral Park, N.Y. was spared flooding as well, but like most of the New York/New Jersey area, power lines were down for more than a week. Miller was able to connect power to his home using his truck generator.

A storage building Miller rents in nearby Freeport, N.Y. was not so lucky; the area was covered with five feet of water for several days, and the building stayed locked for three weeks as a safety precaution. Fortunately, Miller had insurance on the inventory he stored in the 10-foot-square space.

Like many business owners, Miller tried to protect his inventory from the flooding by placing it on shelves, but he underestimated how high the water would rise.

One of his customers spent two days lifting equipment on two cinder blocks, one on top of the other. The equipment was two feet from the ground, but the water eventually reached five feet, submerging the equipment.

“They did get ready; it wasn’t enough,” Miller said.

Rescue efforts were stymied by the lack of communication caused by the power outage, Miller noted. Cell phones could not be charged for days. “You eliminate cell phones, you eliminate communication,” Miller said. “It was amazing what the storm did,” he said.

The power outage also made it impossible for fuel stations to operate. This undermined rescue efforts and made it difficult for people to get to work and conduct normal business.

Miller was unable to check on many of his customers in the storm’s aftermath due to lack of available fuel. He came across one fuel station with a line of cars two miles long, even though the station was closed. The motorists figured it made sense to wait as long as it took for the station to open.

When he found a fuel station that was open, Miller waited three hours in line for fuel. He heard stories of people waiting 14 hours for gasoline.

It was a full week before Miller was able to visit his customers. About half of his 170 customers had their businesses temporarily ruined by the storm. He estimates a few have been destroyed for good.

Miller has since spent a lot of time helping customers determine the book value of inventory lost in order to qualify for government assistance. Only a small number of the affected customers had insurance protection. The reason for this is most of Long Island is not in a designated flood zone.

His own cash flow has taken a major hit. “Whatever I collect, I’m using to pay bills,” Miller said.

“It’s going to take a long time,” he said. “There is nothing you can do in a case like this.”