Clean-up from flash floods socks homeowners in Western Pennsylvania
By Alex Nixon and Matthew Santoni
Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Many Allegheny County residents and business owners hit hard by flash flooding confronted a harsh reality Thursday: They were on the hook for thousands of dollars in cleanup and repair bills.
Very few property owners purchased flood insurance, meaning the cost for pumping out basements, replacing soggy carpets and furniture and doing other restoration work was their responsibility.
“Ninety-five percent (of people) we're talking to have no flood insurance,” said Harold Katofsky, who with his wife owns three Servpro water-damage restoration franchises in the Pittsburgh area. “Most don't understand that their homeowner's insurance doesn't cover it.”
The lack of flood insurance wasn't the only problem. Some businesses that were inundated with floodwaters are losing thousands of dollars in sales because they can't reopen until the clean-up is complete. Making matters worse, they may have a longer-than-normal wait because restoration companies are overburdened with calls from customers needing help.
Katofsky said although his company and its 15 crews aren't overwhelmed by the amount of work, he was telling callers on Thursday that they might have to wait 36 hours for service. Typically, the company would respond in less than four hours to a request, he said.
The cost of cleaning up flood damage at area homes was averaging between $1,000 and $4,000, Katofsky said. He added that it was difficult to provide an average for businesses.
Marilyn Mance owns Executrim Family Hair Salon & Wig Center in Scott, which was destroyed Wednesday when a drain pipe sent stormwater surging through the building she and her husband own.
“Our insurance won't give us a dime,” said Mance, who estimated the loss to her business, the damage to the building and losses at two other businesses housed there at about $1 million.
“It's the worst ever. It destroyed everything,” she said.
Most people don't think their homes or businesses are at risk of flooding, said Michael Barry, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit industry group in New York.
About 15 to 20 percent of American homeowners pay for flood insurance, Barry said, but many are in coastal areas where mortgage lenders mandate coverage.
“One of the big things is the risk of inland flooding is under-estimated,” he said.
“Standard homeowners (insurance) is going to cover wind, fire, theft,” he said. “The big exclusion is flood.”
David Martin, owner of Beer Warehouse in Bridgeville, learned his lesson after Hurricane Ivan, which in 2004 dumped an all-time record of nearly 6 inches of rain on Pittsburgh and caused widespread flooding.
Martin purchased flood insurance after that storm flooded his business and on Thursday said he was glad to have it — he was estimating cleanup costs of $60,000 to $70,000 after 18 inches of floodwater ran through his beer distributorship.
With the help of eight temporary workers and a two-man professional cleaning crew, Martin was hoping to have the Bower Hill Road business open by Friday morning.
Allegheny County is working on estimates of the cost and extent of flooding damage, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.
Julia Reusch, a spokeswoman for Allstate insurance in Pennsylvania, said “there's been an uptick in claims.” But she could not provide a specific number and said the company hadn't decided whether to dispatch adjusters trained in assessing flood damage.
Panhandle Restoration Regional Manager Tracy Stewart said his Wheeling-based company took 150 calls Wednesday night from the Pittsburgh region, compared to 10 after a moderate storm. Crews were working overtime and bringing in temporary workers to staff about 15 cleanup teams, he said, including at the Outback Steakhouse on McLaughlin Run Road in Upper St. Clair.
“We have to tear out everything that's affected,” Stewart said. “We'll be here all day; probably here for a couple days.”
Outback Managing Partner Tobi Frable said he hoped the restaurant would reopen by Sunday. He estimated that the restaurant would lose $50,000 in sales.
In some previous flooding incidents over his 11 years in the business, Katofsky said he's had to call in other Servpro cleaning crews from outside Western Pennsylvania. He didn't need to do that with this storm, he said.
“We lost a lot of equipment,” said Jeff Faulisi, manager of the Firestone tire shop on Banksville Road. “An alignment machine, a tire machine, and a lot of the techs' tools were floating.”
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