Contractors Step Up to Help Municipalities with Hurricane Cleanup

Here’s how two Florida contractors are assisting their area municipalities in the wake of Hurricane Irma
Contractors Step Up to Help Municipalities with Hurricane Cleanup
(Photo by Associated Press)

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When Richard Crow arrived at the job site last week in Fort Lauderdale, what he saw epitomized the devastation Floridians are dealing with following Hurricane Irma.

Trees were down and there was rampant flooding. Kids were playing outside as sewage seeped up from the ground. There was no electricity. The houses reeked of wastewater.

Crow, who is the regional manager in South Florida for Murphy Pipeline Contractors Inc., dedicated three and a half crews — 41 total employees — in Fort Lauderdale to helping the city get back up and running. It’s an example of the role contractors must play in the wake of a disaster like a hurricane, stepping away from their typical workload to address the more pressing emergencies municipalities are dealing with.

Murphy Pipeline Contractors, which has an office in Pembroke Pines, also sent crews to nearby Broward County cities Pompano Beach and Sunrise. The company doesn’t specialize in disaster response, but it will fix municipalities' infrastructure needs immediately.

“All our crews are busy,” Crow said last week. “Most of them are addressing not normal work, but the various cities' immediate needs in clearing and getting water mains and force mains back operational. A lot of the trees were uprooted and when they were uprooted they either dislodged or broke water mains or force mains.”

Prior to the hurricane sweeping through South Florida on Sept. 10, Fort Lauderdale already had serious infrastructure problems. The city was seeking a $2 billion bond just to take care of wastewater, according to Crow. Now the city’s issues have compounded.

Crow received a call from the city Sunday, Sept. 10, after the winds whipped through Fort Lauderdale. By the next morning at 8 a.m., Crow had his guys on site ready to work.

“Fort Lauderdale is in the worst shape of the three (municipalities) that we’re working with,” Crow says. “Electricity is out. They had some force mains that went bad. Right now we’re excavating and they’ve got sewage bubbling up all over the place. They’re just trying to deal with it. We’re just trying to get their mains (30-inch) back online as soon as possible. They have valves that aren’t functioning, so we have to get line stops down here from other subcontractors and we’re telling them it’s a dire need. The force main we’re working on right now, 30 percent of Fort Lauderdale’s wastewater is not working based on this one line being down.”

Getting that force main fixed is the No. 1 priority.

Crow feels fortunate working with the city of Fort Lauderdale, because its staff isn’t sitting behind desks, it’s out in the field helping. It’s all hands on deck.

“We’re having daily meetings with people within the city, including the village manager and the mayor. We are top priority,” Crow says. “Our stuff is their stuff, and their stuff is our stuff. They have a few people we can use. You can tell it’s a different animal working with them in an emergency. We’re working as one team, not separated.”

As Hurricane Irma made its way toward the U.S., Murphy Pipeline Contractors prepared its employees for the worst.

“The hurricane kind of went on the west coast of Florida, so it wasn’t that bad (for us),” Crow says. “We still experienced some heavy rain and some flooding in some areas, but the guys were OK. A lot of the cities around here lost power. I didn’t lose power personally, but all my other guys lost power. A lot of them were kind of overworked a little bit, so when they got back a lot of them didn’t have sleep. But they got right back into it the next day.”

The company has had an emergency disaster plan set in stone for years, and it was just modified to fit the situation. The employees were notified of the plans prior to the hurricane hitting.

“As a company, we talk about getting the company itself ready, getting all the fuel ready,” says Crow, who mentioned the company’s building didn’t have any major damage, just some flooding. “Getting extra fuel containers ready, because we knew it would be short supply, but they need us ASAP. We bought extra water just for the crews. When the guys come back they can’t be dehydrated as soon as they work. We prepared the offices. We tied down all the equipment and made everything safe.”

Crow knows he and his crews are going to be busy for quite some time. He estimates cleanup in Pompano Beach and Sunrise should wrap up in two weeks. After running the numbers on Fort Lauderdale, Crow says his guys could be cleaning up until Oct. 14.

“It’s a long line,” he says. “It’s got a lot of damage to it.”

It’s going to be a long and difficult next month for Crow and his guys. But as contractors in this industry, they are relied upon heavily to get the important work finished.

“I told the guys that this is not about making money,” Crow says, "You’ve got people with wastewater coming back in their homes. I need you all to work Saturdays and Sundays and tough it out. If you’ve got an emergency at home, go home. But we’ve really got to help this community get back in line.”

It’s a similar situation for J.A. LaRocco Enterprise. The company, based in Key Largo knew to keep its operation and employees safe, shutting down temporarily was the best option. From Thursday, Sept. 7, to Sunday, Sept. 10, LaRocco was closed. Some of the roughly 45 employees evacuated the Keys. Others stayed in the area at their homes or hotels and rode out the storm.

But the company was ready to get back to work immediately following the storm.

“There were five of us who stayed in town and didn’t leave,” says Brian Conover, a part owner for LaRocco. “We got right back to it trying to open up our own roads to try and make sure we’re secure and just got started cleaning up. All of our vehicles are a mess, I can tell you that.”

LaRocco was prepared for the hurricane to hit. The office and property came out of the storm without major damage. There were a large number of trees knocked down that needed to be removed.

“We bring all of our equipment from any job site and bring it all to our yard here in Key Largo and we’ve got a big building we try to park everything in,” Conover says. “Then really we just hope for the best after that.”

By the middle of last week, Conover had talked to the majority of his employees who got through the disaster unharmed. The workers knew after the storm passed, it was all hands on deck.

“We tell the most essential people who work for us, our operators and stuff, just keep checking in with us,” Conover says. “As soon as we can get back to work, we get back to work and start cleaning up.”

Conover says Key Largo didn’t receive the brunt of the storm in the Keys. Farther south down to Key West was hit harder. LaRocco owns a yard in Marathon — which is about halfway between Key Largo and Key West — but as of Wednesday last week, Conover hadn’t tried to venture down to check out the extent of the possible damage.

Conover says everything south down U.S. Highway 1 is going to be in rough shape. Even in Key Largo, it was quite a debris-filled scene just three days after Irma struck.

“Basically, lots of trees down by the highway,” Conover says. “You can see where the tide came up and crossed U.S. 1. There is lots of debris and seaweed on the road. A lot of neighborhoods are still without power. It could have been a lot worse for everybody involved. We’re very fortunate.”

The Keys are in disaster relief mode right now and cleanup in the area is gradually getting underway. There haven’t been any municipalities that have contacted LaRocco as of yet to help with cleanup.

“But it’s pretty early in the game,” Conover says.

However, Conover received a call the day following the hurricane from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA), the company that supplies water and maintains pipelines for the entire 120-mile stretch of the Florida Keys.

“We’re working with the Aqueduct Authority with the waterlines and stuff right now,” Conover says. “We’re trying to find the leaks and isolate them, so that we can keep water going to everybody.”

Conover believes Key Largo is looking at two to three months of cleanup work. LaRocco is ready to jump in as quickly as possible.

“Beginning this week there’s going to be a whole lot of calls coming in probably to clean up,” Conover says. “At the same time, we still have our other projects that are going to have to keep moving. I don’t see us having much shortage of work in the near future.”


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