Hurricanes Irma and Harvey did $150 billion in damage to Florida, Texas, and Georgia. And while economists don’t know the full cost of the damage done by Hurricane Maria yet, early estimates are that the storm cost Puerto Rico between $45 and $95 billion. That means the companies doing the post-hurricane cleanup have their work cut out for them.
Steps for Rebuilding
Construction companies’ first step in handling storm damage is limiting it as much as they can.
In the four days before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, workers at Coastal Construction Group in Miami lowered cranes, bundled lumber and ladders, and hauled piles of toilets and bathtubs to higher ground.
They also took down hoists – the external elevators that workers use to go between floors – and dangling cables, which can “lash at the building like a bullwhip if they’re left in place,” said company owner Dan Whiteman.
The next big task for tradespeople and restoration techs is handling water damage.
Workers have to clean and dry a flooded building within a few weeks. If not, the building’s owner can expect mold contamination. But the process of cleaning out a water-damaged structure isn’t a simple one. Because of the risk of shock and fire, crews can’t immediately use electrical receptacles to run cleaning and drying equipment. They must be checked by an electrician first.
And cleaning up mold is no simple process. Household bleach might seem like an ideal cleaner for removing mold. But many types of bleach aren’t EPA-registered as a disinfectant. Worse, contact with residual dirt reduces bleach’s effectiveness at killing mold. That’s why it takes an army of tradespeople, skilled laborers, and HAZMAT technicians to properly clean up a flood-damaged area.
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How Many Hurricane Cleanup Jobs?
It’s impossible to know just yet how many construction jobs will be created during this hurricane season. But we can consider the number of jobs created by previous storms.
After Hurricane Katrina (2005), Louisiana gained 7,800 construction jobs the following year.
In New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy (2012) led to an increase of 9,800 construction jobs in the next 12 months. In New York, the increase in the number of jobs was 16,700.
Communities in Texas and Florida are already scrambling to get as many subcontractors working on hurricane cleanup as possible. Many are re-writing their debris removal contracts and paying millions of dollars to get the labor force they need. Paying more for companies to lend their trucks to the cleanup effort is critical to recruiting loggers and gravel companies away from their regular business.
Construction Labor Shortage
There is one problem facing the rebuilding effort, though. The construction industry is currently suffering from a labor shortage.
The housing collapse of the Great Recession drove an estimated 30 percent of construction workers into new fields. Since then, the supply of both skilled and unskilled construction labor has remained tight.
During the third quarter of 2017 alone, 60% of contractors reported difficulty finding skilled workers.
“Finding skilled workers remains a challenge for this industry, and it’s likely to remain a challenge in the areas affected by the recent hurricanes,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Construction workers are moving to the Gulf region to take advantage of hurricane cleanup work. But the overall labor shortage remains a challenge for local construction firms and homeowners alike.
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