Contractors Help Reconstruct Spirits After Katrina

Mon September 26, 2005 - National Edition
Lisa Coston

As the physical cleanup and rebuilding begins in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, a different kind of rebuilding is taking place for the thousands of individuals and families, displaced and shattered by Katrina’s wrath; the rebuilding of lives.

Several general and specialty contractors, in and around the southeast — many who are involved in rebuilding and some who are not — are taking time to assist Katrina survivors by donating clothes, food, and in some cases, temporary housing.

Employees from Fluor Power Group, a Greenville, SC-based subsidiary of general contractor The Fluor Corporation recently helped to send a 26-ft. rental truck, filled with water, diapers, canned foods, sleeping bags, batteries and toiletry items, that they all collected and donated, to hurricane survivors in Pascagoula, MS.

Hoar Construction, a general contracting firm based in Birmingham, AL, is coordinating efforts with the Red Cross, via Goodwill Industries, by setting up food and clothing distribution points, as well as sponsoring a blood drive for Katrina victims.

In addition, Hoar is in the planning stages of converting the Edgewater Mall — the largest enclosed mall along the Gulf Coast, located in Biloxi, MS. — into a potential shelter for evacuees.

“We [Hoar] have sent a construction team down to Biloxi help determine whether the mall would be structurally sound enough, or to get it into shape to use for evacuees,” according to Sandra Cox, marketing director. “The mall’s owner is still working with FEMA on that, and our team is still in the process of getting it structurally sound, so that it can be used.”

Employees of Houston-based XServ Inc., a general contractor with six specialty subsidiary companies including Baton Rouge-based Basic Industries Inc. and United Scaffolding & Shoring LLC, have quickly rolled up their sleeves and are continuing to lend a hand to all Katrina victims, including their own employees.

“The storm hit on a Monday. We were here on Tuesday already starting to talk about what we were going to do as a company,” said Danny Cavalier, business development manager for XServ, based at Basic Industries.

“We got out there pretty aggressively and started making phone calls to field personnel to make sure that they were okay.”

Cavalier, along with XServ CEO Mike McGinnis and Dean Bodelin, president of Basic Industries, are coordinating the relief efforts from the corporate level, throughout Basic Industries.

One of their first efforts was to send 23 Basic Industry employees to assist FEMA in helping to feed more than 500 Katrina survivors and volunteers housed at the Lamar Dixon Evacuee Center, in nearby Prairieville, LA, just a week after the storm hit. Lamar Dixon not only houses up to 2,500 evacuees, but it’s one of the only shelters for animal evacuees also.

“We got there about 1:30 that afternoon. And just to see the trailers and truckloads of animals … it was just unbelievable,” Cavalier said.

Cavalier and his team, along with other groups volunteering with FEMA, fed the masses through a barbecue, and there are plans for future cook-outs and other events to help all those in and around Baton Rouge, including its own employees affected by the storm.

“For this go round we did a barbecue, but we are planning another cookout in a couple of weeks or so, and we may fry fish or chicken,” said Cavalier.

With more than 4,000 employees within the XServ family, several employees living and working in the affected areas, many of them are now in the same situation as the rest of the survivors: without a home and with only the clothes on their backs.

In response, XServ, at the corporate level, recently created a monetary fund for employees affected by the storm. Employees and vendors of all six companies under the XServ umbrella continue to contribute to the fund, which is now at the $200,000 level.

“Mike and the corporate office have already put in $100,000, and with individual contributions at the $200,000 level,” Cavalier explained. “Based on each applicant situation, we will have a team to look at each hardship, from there we will make a monetary contribution to those employees on a need by need basis.”

In addition, there are several trailers situated between the grounds of Basic Industries and XServ subsidiary, United Scaffolding, LLC, housing up to 35 displaced employees and their families.

“We have set up a couple of trailers on site, between Basic and United offices, and we are housing some of our employees and families. We gave them cots, sleeping bags, microwaves, TVs and portable showers,” said Cavalier. “As it develops, we may look at a 10,000-square-foot building we have available on our grounds that could house others, if needed.”

Along with future cookouts and planned clothing drives for XServ employees affected by Katrina, XServ is taking things one step further and offering jobs to all who need them.

“We’re setting up a billboard on the interstate, with a hotline number they can contact, so if they are looking for jobs, they can get over to the XServ hiring center.”

As with most of the general contractors in the affected areas, the added revenues that might be generated by contracts to rebuild, the human factor remains as the single most important component in reviving and rebuilding, according to Cavalier.

“Basic Industries has been a part of this community for a long time, since 1977. We are a part of this community, a part of what’s happened here. In times of need, in times of good, we will be here to stay. We are doing our part as best we can to help everyone in this tragedy.” CEG