Geocolor Image of Hurricane Irma. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
Adobe/trongnguyen Geocolor Image of Hurricane Irma. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

With the flurry of images and tragic news that began with Hurricane Harvey, and were then followed just days later by the devastating blow from Hurricane Irma, it is worth describing what lies ahead for these victims, spoken from my own personal experience.

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, Katrina barreled through New Orleans, my hometown where I was born and raised, and where I still work and live. As we all remember, poorly engineered levees and floodwalls led to multiple failures during the peak of the storm, and the entire city flooded to heights of up to 10 and 12 feet within hours.

My wife and I returned home within a couple of weeks, but soon had to leave again. Cellphone towers were down, and telephone landlines lay in the streets, so basic communication was nonexistent. Power was out for weeks and destroyed television cable systems led to long lines at the local Radio Shack or Best Buy, waiting for the next truckload of over-the-air antennas so we could watch television the old-fashioned way. Grocery store shelves were empty, and remained empty despite efforts to restock them. Gasoline was in short supply. And this was not just days after the storm – this persisted for weeks, and in certain cases, months.

One friend who lived in the Mid City neighborhood repaired his house, but was displaced for 18 months as the underground natural gas supply and distribution system had to be completely rebuilt, so his home was uninhabitable and therefore could not obtain an occupancy certificate.

As I write this, somewhere around 6.5 million people are without power in Florida, some 64% of that state’s entire population. In Georgia, which suffered a substantial blow, 1 million people are without power. On the Texas Gulf Coast, more than 100,000 homeowners face flood damage, and most are uninsured because their elevations did not require flood insurance.

The Trials of Rebuilding

Their recovery challenges are enormous. First, all power, water, sewer, and natural gas systems must be restored, and this could take months. For individual victims, the work of rebuilding will begin with insurance claims and the multiple meetings and negotiations with adjusters, or the long road through the labyrinth of FEMA if their losses are uninsured. Contractors must be hired, flooded furnishings and cars must be replaced, and personal effects that have been recovered must be repaired or restored.

Some will face the additional challenges of where to send their children to school, as many schools have been damaged or flooded, and will be months away from reopening. And even more challenging will be a place to live. In New Orleans, for those who were affluent, every home for sale in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and surrounding cities that were unaffected by the storm was sold within the first 30 days. But the average person was forced to leave the area, moving in with family or friends in almost 40 different states. This made the logistics of coordinating their recovery effort even more difficult.

The reality is that these storm-ravaged communities can expect a five-year pull to get to 80% of their recovery, and eight-to-10 years to reach 95%, based on our own experience in New Orleans. The only silver lining in all this tragedy is that lots of insurance and federal recovery money will pour in, and this influx of recovery funds will represent a big boost to their local economies.

Concrete to the Rescue

Expect the ready-mixed concrete producers in those markets will be extremely busy for years to come. Louisiana placed more than 10 million cubic yards in 2010, a full five years after Katrina, and led the nation in production-per-capita at 2.2 cubic yards-per-person against the national average of 1.5 at that time. We can expect similar metrics from the Texas Gulf Coast and the whole state of Florida over the next few years.