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  Guest Editorial

Rebuilding After Katrina:
An ASA Member's Personal Experience

Posted 10/18/2005
By Lorraine Wood

Lorraine Wood, an ASA member in Kenner, La., tells her story.

Back of the shop where the electrical panels fell off. Six generators currently provide power.
On Sunday, Aug. 28 - the day of the storm - we worked around the house and caught glimpses of the news concerning the hurricane. Friends and family called to ask if my husband and I were leaving but we never made plans to leave. Around 6 p.m. the rains began to come. The Weather Channel showed a huge hurricane headed straight for New Orleans. That's when we decided it was time to leave. We secured the house, fed the cats and left to stay in Lafayette.

After the hurricane, we watched the news anxiously, awaiting information that would let us know what had been damaged. After six days, we were allowed to return to the city and secure our property from looting. We found that our shop had suffered substantial damage but it was not totaled. We were fortunate.

The mechanical shop had an exterior wall where the top had crumbled and the wall pulled away from the building by two feet. The garage doors were all damaged. Electrical service had been pulled off the building when the wall crumbled. The other buildings also had damage, mostly to the garage doors. Exterior fences were down; we quickly repaired the fences to protect the property. We were glad to find that our equipment was safe and functional. We soon realized that with a little work, we could be up and running within a short period of time.

On a personal level, my home has been spared with only minor damage. The electricity and water have been on for some time even though my neighbor across the street is without power.

It took Lorraine, her husband Glen, and their crew of employees and family members two weeks to clean up the shop and get it in working order.
Our summer home in Mississippi is still standing on its pilings. The house in Mississippi is 20 miles from the Gulf Coast and the storm surge was 16 feet above the land as it came through. The house sustained 7 feet of water throughout, and fish were left dying on the kitchen floor. Our Mustang was completely submerged and will be totaled. Our boat rose with the water and landed sideways on the trailer as the waters receded. But, as we look around us, we realize we are among the more fortunate ones in the area. We were spared, and we have a duty to help others.

After surveying the shop's damage, we went back to Lafayette and purchased six generators, gas cans, food and water. We returned to Kenner the next day to begin repairing the facility. At this point, it was the Sunday after the storm had hit. We challenged ourselves to be among the first shops to open so we could begin work on the needed repairs that would be coming our way.

We set about repairing the shop. The building door panels were removed and reinstalled so they would open and close. The generators were placed throughout the building to provide enough electricity to access the computers and other equipment. The rear wall was moved back against the building structure and secured to avoid further destruction.

During the second week after the hurricane, another priority was to communicate to all of the companies that we were preparing to open for business. E-mails and phone calls were made to all of the insurance companies with which we work. By the end of the week, insurance companies were calling back and sending in cars for repairs.

Hurricane Katrina tore off the shop's back wall.
The third week after the hurricane, we were open for business. We did not realize just how fortunate we had been. Even though we had damage and repairs that must be made, there were other automotive businesses in our area that will be out of operation for at least six months. Our buildings are in need of new roofs, but other businesses had their roofs blown off and their equipment damaged by the rains or stolen. Our computers, equipment, data, etc., were intact and easily accessible. As we began working and communicating with others in the community, it became apparent that we were the only facility within 10 miles that was operational.

Repairing cars was difficult in the beginning. The mechanical shop had no electricity and cars were stuck on lifts. We installed a massive electrical extension cord to provide power from the collision shop to the mechanical shop to temporarily run the equipment. The building is functioning but needs major repairs. The insurance company has allowed us to rent a temporary building to operate in while the repairs are completed.

Slowly, the area is coming back to life. Utility companies are working night and day, and the electricity and phone lines are gradually coming back on. Eighteen-wheelers are removing trees, truckload after truckload. The city smells of spoiled food that has been placed on the curb for pickup. Gas stations are opening here and there. We can now forward our mail to a post office box, and maybe we will begin receiving some mail. Grocery stores are beginning to open. The delivery trucks are sometimes being stopped before entering the area. There is no choice at the grocery store - you must purchase what has been delivered that day.

Employees of Woody's Collision and Mechanical Repair. Front row: William Johnson, Jennifer Wood, Lorraine Wood, Pat Theriot. Back row: Wesly Wood, Glen Wood, Wayne Savoie, Mike Brockelsby and Shelton Dore.
The work is rolling in, but unfortunately many of our employees are still displaced. Some are as far away as California, and some have relocated their families, while others have decided to permanently move to other states or cities. There is no newspaper, and we need to hire new employees. We know there are many people who need a job, but it is difficult to find them due to lack of communication.

There are other concerns, as the flood cars are being towed to the shop. Many insurance companies are deciding to total the vehicles if there is water on the carpet. The technicians who are working on these cars are using gloves. We are not sure what bacteria may have been in the water. We are being very cautious to avoid injury to our employees as they complete the repairs. We have electricity from the other building but have no water, so we hung up water bottles so we can wash our hands.

At this time, customers are calling to have their cars towed in for repairs. They are in shock, confused and don't know what to do next. It is our responsibility to provide customer service at every level. We are advising customers about what to expect from their insurance companies. We are also advising them to return in two months. Their vehicles must be reinspected so we can be positive all necessary repairs were made and that will give us an opportunity to secure any future repairs.

This has been a serious catastrophe for our once lovely community. Everyone is confused and trying to decide what has to be done first in the rebuilding process. I'm fortunate that we were able to get the business up and running, and we have the opportunity to help those who need our service. My insurance company will be replacing the damaged wall, electricity, overhead doors and installing new roofing. FEMA and the government will be investing enormous amounts of money into the area, which will benefit all of the citizens in the long run. We will eventually have a more wonderful and exciting New Orleans.

Lorraine Wood and her husband, Glen, own and operate Woody's Collision and Mechanical Repair in Kenner, La., which is about 10 miles from downtown New Orleans. She can be reached at

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