Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard with a vengeance on the evening of Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, with enough wind and rain to demolish homes, destroy neighborhoods and cause fires. More than 7 million residents in 15 states were without power after the storm.
Power outages decreased daily by the thousands, but due to the sheer volume of people, many went weeks without power. Fuel was another issue. Roads and bridges were out and debris had blocked the ports, so fuel was hard to come by as were essentials like water, bread and milk. Gas lines were two hours or more long. Cell phone towers were down and those who did have cell service tried to reserve their cell power as there was no electricity to charge phones.
The final death toll attributed to the storm was 253, with 103 in the U.S., including 53 in New York, 37 in New Jersey, 13 in Pennsylvania, 11 in Maryland, six in West Virginia, five in Connecticut and three each in Virginia and North Carolina. Damage estimates were $65 billion, making it the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
By early December, almost all power had been restored, save for those areas that were wiped out. Cleanup was ongoing. More than $1.09 billion had been approved in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance as of Dec. 17.
Rental stores throughout the East, for the most part, escaped damage, but others did not. Tree damage was rampant across the East Coast.
“It wasn’t just gusts of wind, but constant wind, like someone turned a fan on and let it run and blow all night,” recalls Al Wismer, owner of George’s Tool Rental in Hatfield, Pa., who lived through Hurricane Sandy, which severely impacted much of the East Coast.
“The trees were full of leaves, so when the wind got a hold of those, it just multiplied the force on the trees,” says Wismer, who serves as the American Rental Association’s (ARA) Region Two director. “We had so much tree damage. Amazingly, in my area, we didn’t see a lot of structural damage. I’ve seen so many large trees blown down between houses. Luckily, we didn’t get all of the rain that was anticipated. The ground was relatively dry before it hit, too, which helped.”
Because of the tree damage, power lines went down, which created outages. By Nov. 1, however, all three of Wismer’s rental stores had power and were in full operation. “The Hatfield location, our main store, never lost power. It did lose Internet. Our Horsham store regained power Oct. 31 and our Danboro branch regained power Nov. 1. The problem is that our main location, where our server was, didn’t have Internet, so none of our stores could access the server. We were doing everything manually,” he says.
In New Jersey, a massive storm surge had rained down water in areas that had never flooded before. This caused several issues and damage to several stores.
The roof blew off the Miller’s Rentals building in Edison, N.J., and days were spent addressing water damage, salvaging computers and other equipment, and finding fuel for generators. More than a month later, a new roof is back on and business is continuing as usual. Steve Kohn, owner, says he has learned a lot from his experience.
“I think the one thing we can all agree on is that we all need to be better prepared if a disaster like this should ever happen again. During this ordeal I kept my iPad nearby and jotted down thoughts and comments that hopefully will help in any future catastrophic events,” Kohn says.
Among those thoughts were getting to know the insurance policy, providing backup power devices for cell phones and having backup generators for everyone. “Your associates in the rental industry are your best friends during a crisis,” Kohn says. “From moral support to equipment help and even fuel, I can’t tell you how helpful the New Jersey rental community was during Hurricane Sandy. I didn’t even have to ask, so many volunteered equipment and advice. It’s nice that we have an association that we can depend on in times of need.”
Others were more fortunate, but still dealt with storm issues. Vernon Mott, owner, Pioneer Rentals, Chatham, N.J., says they were spared damage and flooding, and were without power for only five days. “We were able to function on generator power and forward telephone calls to our cell phones enabling us to remain one of the few businesses open and to serve our customers. All in all, I would say we were very lucky considering. Unfortunately there are still areas that were so hard hit that they may still not be rebuilt anytime soon,” he says.
Meg Ruch, rental sales manager, Party Corner, Shrewsbury, and Party Line, Ocean, N.J., says her company did not have damage, but did lose power in the Ocean office for almost three weeks and had to run it as a closed office. Business, however, was brisk.
“Not only were generators and heaters a hot commodity, but tents were needed left and right, largely in part for makeshift portable kitchens to feed the hundreds of displaced residents and all of the volunteers from around the country who have stepped up to help us restore the shore. We provided grills, ovens, stove tops, pot boilers, griddles, Cambros, coolers, proofing boxes, tables and chairs — anything and everything you could think of to pull this off. Tons of local restaurants and caterers extended a hand in the cooking, while local residents and companies donated the food and we were able to help put the kitchen together. It really was a group effort,” Ruch says.
Ruch says that as the need for kitchens came to an end and the communities began to rebuild, there was a new need for tents. “Different contracting companies are coming in and beginning to set up shop to rebuild,” Ruch says. “On the cold days of the approaching winter, a nice warm heated tent for lunch breaks and a place to mentally recharge are next on our list of ways to get involved and keep the business moving. Just like the communities have come together to help restore, we too will help in any and every way we can.”
Many manufacturers provided equipment after the storm and during cleanup, including Hertz Equipment Rental Corp. (HERC), Caterpillar, Briggs & Stratton, National Pump & Compressor, Xylem, The Gorman-Rupp Co. and Aggreko. United Rentals was featured on Fox News, and Michael Kneeland, president and CEO, was interviewed about the need for rental equipment in situations like Hurricane Sandy. Many companies also donated to the effort. The Home Depot committed $1 million early on to Hurricane Sandy relief. HERC re-allocated its fleet to meet the increased demand from car renters and donated to local charities and food banks.
The ARA Foundation board of trustees also unanimously voted to donate a total of $6,000 — $3,000 each — to the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to support Hurricane Sandy relief. For more information, go to ARAFoundation.com.