Rebuilding One Step at a Time

Days prior to Hurricane Katrina’s devastating blow to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Barrier Construction Co. (featured in Asphalt Contractor, January 2005) heeded the warnings by moving paving equipment to high ground at its Boutte production facility located west of The Big Easy and telling associates to evacuate the area.

Days immediately following the August 29th hurricane strike and subsequent flooding of New Orleans, company owners and managers assessed damages, contacted their associates to check on their well-being and started the arduous task of bringing their operation back on-line. Land telephone systems were knocked out by the storm and cellular communications were sporadic at best. Text messaging on cell phones seemed to work best until towers were repaired and temporary phone lines installed.

The company’s Boutte asphalt production facility sustained minor damage, with the exception of lost electrical power. Barriere’s corporate office in New Orleans was moved to the Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association office in Baton Rouge.

Twelve days after the hurricane, Barrier moved trailers into its Boutte facility to provide temporary housing for associates who had to evacuate the area and had no where to return because of the damage their homes sustained. Each of the three trailers was equipped to house eight people. Within days, paving crews were back at work repairing approach ramps to the causeway that spans Lake Pontchartrain. Most of the work during the five weeks following the hurricane has been on roads damaged by the storm. Gradually, crews began work on projects that were scheduled prior to the hurricane, and more work is finding its way on Barriere’s project schedule as damage assessments earmark needed reconstruction.

Mitch Wicker, asphalt superintendent for Barriere, shared his own assessment of the company’s rebuilding efforts. “Every employee was paid for two weeks following the hurricane while we were regrouping. We were fortunate to have access to the paving association’s office for our temporary company office. We assigned a five-person crew to help clear debris and gain access to employees’ homes. We were able to provide temporary housing for some of our people so they could come back to work. Today (Oct. 11), we’re running at about 75 percent of our usual staff and production, and we’re also back working on some of the projects we scheduled prior to the hurricane. Some of our field personnel have not returned and they may not, but we hope to encourage more of them to come back. The owners have really stepped up to the plate to do everything they can to help the people working here and to put this company back on its feet.”

I’m sure there are countless stories of other entrepreneurs rebuilding one step at a time, and they will continue to do so for as long as it takes. Their futures depend on it. Their associates depend on it. And the communities they serve depend on it. For more information on Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts, go to www.forconstructionpros.com/hurricane.

Greg Udelhofen, Editor

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