Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans are often thought of together but a number of other areas also were hit hard by the Category 3 hurricane 10 years ago this week. A number of ServiceMaster franchisees including ServiceMaster DSI and their employees worked tirelessly to return some semblance of normalcy to communities in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Everyone who was there has at least one story.
“It’s very difficult to capture the depth of what was going on and put it into words people can relate to,” said Kim Brooks, CEO of ServiceMaster DSI. “The thing that struck me most was how an area so big could be transformed into something worse than a very poor third world country overnight.
“We had teams of people working on logistical things we take for granted every day,” he said, “like getting food and water to our people (and in some cases to clients) so they could continue to work, finding places for them to sleep (all of us spent a number of nights sleeping in our vehicles), finding fuel for vehicles and equipment. At one time, the closest operating gas station was about 170 miles away. The difficulty of navigating closed highways and roads to reach a destination — there was one time when Jim Wills and I became so lost while inspecting a property for a client that we followed a body retrieval truck through the eerie darkness to a much safer and familiar place than the one we were in.
“The civil structure of this area was completely broken almost overnight. There was no police protection and it took many days for the National Guard to arrive in numbers sufficient to effectively bring order to the chaos.
“It’s difficult to describe but we would do it again in a heartbeat. It was a good feeling to know that we actually played a role in helping a community to get back on its feet.”
Gene Rhodes, owner of ServiceMaster Quality Services in Houma, La., said that although his area “got pounded,” they were fortunate compared to anyone west of Houma, where most of the force of the storm hit. “We had a ton of damage and work,” said Rhodes, “but we put a priority on our business customers, including the Parish of Terrebonne. We also did a lot of free work – if someone had no insurance, little family and nowhere else to go, we did that kind of work for them. Katrina was a real test but you have to get through it. You just hope you don’t have to go through it again.”
Bob Van Houten, owner of ServiceMaster Metro Cleaning Company in New Orleans, stayed through the storm and in the aftermath, when he couldn’t reach his employees, paid cash to workers who could help him clear out homes and businesses. Almost nothing was salvageable and the refuse was piled along the streets until it could be removed. Van Houten remembers the eerie dark and the oppressive heat when there was no power, and the silence in the abandoned neighborhoods.
ServiceMaster DSI came from Kansas City and Chicago to work in seven of the hospitals in New Orleans including Lindy Boggs Medical Center, where many had gone for shelter only to become trapped when the levee broke. The hospital never reopened. The 2.3 million square foot University Medical Center, where DSI crews had been working since February, reopened in June. It replaces the downtown public hospital that was severely damaged and shut down after Hurricane Katrina. The hospital opening attracted a good bit of local media attention, including newspaper and television coverage. “This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, and finally having fully restored medical services is a huge boost to the community and local economy,” said Scott Carroll, vice president of sales and marketing for DSI. “It’s exciting to have been a part of this process from the initial emergency response in 2005 to opening the new hospital now.”
DSI also worked at the Biloxi Regional Medical Center in Mississippi. Although it wasn’t in the scope of work, members of the DSI crew helped a teacher and her two children who lived across from the hospital. Check out our customer’s story here.