When the water is finally drained from New Orleans and the other areas struck by Hurricane Katrina, it can then be determined just how many homes and other buildings can be saved. Damage recovery experts are surveying the scenes before bringing in their salvaging equipment.
David Liebl is vice-president of the Atlanta-based firm Disaster Services, Incorporated. His workers have been to the damaged areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
"The first problem is the issue of logistics, from our standpoint. The logistics of food, fuel, lodging and of course merely getting to our locations. That has been a critical issue. At some points we’re having to cut our way in. Others we’re having to rely upon the local governmental agencies to make the access for our large equipment to come into the damaged areas," he says.
Mr. Liebl says their work is focusing on salvaging official and crucial infrastructures, not homes.
"Our focus is on governmental buildings and agencies, places of employment, places where food distribution can take place," he says.
He says unless the government is able to provide essential services, such as water and electricity, there’s little reason for the people to return to their homes.
But whether it’s a government building or a residence, Mr. Liebl says the same rules apply when determining whether the building can be saved.
"It depends upon the duration that the facility was under water. Of course, in this case, the water that was involved is all contaminated. It’s contaminated with biologicals, with chemicals, the salt water itself. So that has a slight change on what would normally be a residential loss if it was just a pipe that broke and clean water filled up. So, we have to examine the nature of the building, it’s construction, and how long that water has been exposed to the material," he says.
Workers from Disaster Services, Incorporated, and similar firms, will generally remove carpeting and dry wall. If the beams and the two by fours, a common form of lumber, are not damaged, they can be cleaned and sprayed with a chemical bactericide. That prevents bacteria and mold from growing on the wood.
Mr. Liebl says, "Actually, believe it or not, even though a facility may have been underwater for an extended period of time, they can be recovered."
Often, though, the buildings are shells and most of the interior must be redone. Depending on the work, this could take a few days or a few weeks.
Asked whether the flood damage from Hurricane Katrina is the worst he’s ever dealt with, he replies:
"Yes, by far. The information that I’m receiving now from our insurance sources state that the estimated total loss that Katrina will have contributed from a damaged environment, damaged structures and property is going to exceed a hundred billion dollars now. Unfortunately, they’re only thinking about a third of it is going to be covered by insurance. So a substantial amount of this is going to be uninsured," he says.
Some believe that damage estimate will continue to rise.