My hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey is about 110 miles north of Atlantic City, where Tropical Storm Sandy made landfall on Monday evening. We only received a couple of inches of rain here, and are far enough away from major rivers and the shoreline that flooding was minimal; on the other hand, wind damage was extensive. During a recent walk through Elizabeth and neighboring Roselle Park and Union, I saw numerous trees – primarily oaks – which had been blown down onto power lines and houses (see slide show). On street after street, trees crashed into homes, power lines, transformers, street lights, and poles carrying communication lines. Many streets remain closed, and the ones that are open are a maze of dangerous electrical wires and precariously-hanging poles and tree limbs that drivers must navigate through.
In anticipation of the storm, I bought a small Honeywell 2000-watt inverter/generator to run basement pumps. While I never needed the pumps, we don’t have power, and I’m glad I bought the generator – I use it to power our frig, charge cell phones, and keep us connected via internet and TV. To keep it fueled I siphoned gas from my truck, since only a few gas stations are open. There the lines are long, with police officers queuing drivers and keeping the scene civil. I’ve heard that power will be restored soon, but I haven’t seen many repair crews. I suspect that they’re working on the infrastructure further upstream, and that it’s going to be a while – possibly quite a long while - before power is restored to many homes.
We do most of our work in Hoboken, which is in the flood plain of the Hudson River; there, ninety percent of homes there are without power. The National Guard is still rescuing some residents as I write this, so it might be weeks before we get back to work. Unfortunately, overhead expenses do not stop when work slows or stops, and it’s going to be hard to invoice for work completed from clients with their own new financial and family safety problems. We don’t have emergency funds to pay worker’s salaries when there is no work, though we offer two weeks of paid vacation and personal time annually that can be used while we’re shut down. Our employees may also be able to take advantage of temporary unemployment insurance. Until receivables and new revenues start coming back in, we may have to tap into our $100,000 line of credit. We also have a number of estimates pending, but I expect that the disaster will slow down the decision-making process for most clients.
It looks like there will be plenty of insurance work around here, but I’ve never felt our operation was structured for its pricing schedule and time horizons, and we’ve done little of it. However, we’ve been rooted in Hoboken for over twenty years now, and are one of the go-to companies for remodeling work there. The next few weeks will be tough, but after that I think that we’ll be right back on track.
Rob Corbo is a contractor in Elizabeth, New Jersey.