From: Jeff Collins, The Orange County Register, Calif.
Published February 24, 2005 12:00 AM

Disaster-Cleanup Firms in Orange County Scrambling to Keep Up With Calls

The first sign of trouble was when the kitchen curtains toppled from the wall.


Then the window and ceiling sprouted leaks, drip, drip, dripping all over Marsha Talbot's kitchen.


"The whole wall in my kitchen and half my ceiling had to be torn out," said Talbot, a San Juan Capistrano grandmother. "It was a mess."


This season's record rainfall has spelled trouble for many Orange County residents who, like Talbot, discovered soggy ceilings, squishy carpets and buckled wood floors as rain raked the region.


As a result, disaster-cleanup companies across Orange County have been deluged with calls for help, driving up business 300 to 400 percent for some firms. Twenty-four-hour backlogs were common during this past week's storms as roofs and windows sprung leaks or floodwaters turned living rooms, dens and bedrooms into soggy messes.


"Insane busy," said Bruce Garcia, a worker for Servpro of Huntington Beach, on Wednesday as he watched a co-worker peal back carpeting and remove a chunk of Sheetrock from a waterlogged wall in Newport Beach. "It pretty much got really crazy on Monday."


"We're getting a ton of work," added Skip Jarvis, co-owner of Jarvis Restoration of Laguna Niguel. "Everybody in Orange County is under water."


The Yellow Pages list at least four dozen disaster-recovery companies that do business year-round dealing with burst plumbing or overflowing toilets. Their business naturally picks up in the rainy season.


But this year, flood professionals say, has been unusually busy.


"I've been in this business 15 years, and we've had a few El NiƱos in that time," said Bob Martin, Garcia's boss and owner of two Servpro franchises. "I've never seen it like this."


Martin was showing signs of sleep deprivation after a 14-hour shift drying out 20,000 square feet of wet carpeting at a flooded La-Z-Boy store in Costa Mesa.


"The phones ... started ringing at 3 o'clock in the morning (on Sunday)," he said. "A lot of it is bad drainage or rain gutters blocked up with leaves or debris. ... We've had it where roofs have caved in. There's just too much moisture coming out of the sky."


Jarvis said his company normally does 50 to 60 jobs a month. In this season's wettest months -- October, January and February -- it's been getting close to 200 jobs a month.


Flood 911 of Placentia has been getting 50 to 100 calls a day since rain began falling last week, said account representative Lawrence Sanchez. That's double the normal number.


"Roof leaks can be a little more extreme," Sanchez said. "We got one (Tuesday) with seven rooms damaged. It was sad."


The company suctioned off about 300 gallons of water from the home, and installed air movers and dehumidifiers to begin the days-long process of drying the home out, he said.


"These rugs, you'd be surprised how much water they can hold," he said.


Padding under wall-to-wall carpets is usually tossed out, but the rugs often can be saved, flood company officials said. Holes are cut into walls and ceilings, and dehumidifiers and fans run for days until the relative humidity is reduced to safe levels. Anti-microbial solution is sprayed on rugs and into walls and ceilings to eliminate the risk of mold or mildew.


Companies have hired extra workers and bought extra equipment to handle all the extra work.


A spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California said the number of insurance claims generated by this past week's storms are expected to equal or better the 22,000 reported after January's Pineapple Express storms. The disaster-cleanup firms aren't the only ones busy, added Scott Smith, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance in Irvine. Roofers and other contractors are backlogged for months, as are insurance claims adjusters.


"People who make their living off repairing homes are very busy right now," Smith said. "It does become very taxing."


The amount of loss varies from $100 to $100,000, company officials said.


Property owners are often referred to cleanup companies by their insurance carriers.


But often as not, the damage isn't covered by a resident's insurance, officials said. A burst water pipe, a tree falling through the roof or hail damage usually is covered, insurance officials said. But a poorly maintained roof that springs a leak is not.


Nor are homes that are simply flooded by ground water -- unless the residents have flood insurance.


Most of the victims have been home or apartment owners, company officials said. But a few businesses have been affected, too.


Blocked drains caused roof water to come cascading into the Costa Mesa La-Z-Boy, perhaps shutting the business down until Saturday. Martin immediately hired 18 temporary workers to move furniture or set them up on blocks as the company worked until 9 p.m. Monday setting up fans and dehumidifiers.


On Tuesday, Kris Beauchamp learned for the second time this year that his daughter's downstairs room in his rented Newport Beach home had flooded. He took it in stride after water saturated the outside stucco, leaving a puddle under the light-brown, wall-to-wall carpet.


"How often does it happen in California?" asked Beauchamp, 36, the sickeningly sweet smell of the anti-mold spray permeating his daughter's room. "It's a minor inconvenience."


Talbot, meanwhile, has been waiting for weeks to see if her insurance will pay for damage that occurred to her San Juan Capistrano home just after Christmas.


The mess has been cleaned up, but she still faces exposed beams in her kitchen. And with each rain, she still must distribute towels to sop up water from the unrepaired leaks.


"I have no idea what it's going to cost," she said. "(And) it's still dripping."


WATER DAMAGE TIPS


Water damage should be addressed right away, said Corinne Lindquist, sales director for Disaster Kleenup Better Floors in Placentia. But after a storm, you might have to wait awhile before professionals can repair the damage. Here are a few things you can do:


--Mop up as much water as possible.
--Clear off wood furniture and wipe dry.
--Remove and prop up wet upholstery and cushions.
--Place aluminum foil or wood blocks between furniture legs and wet carpets.
--Turn on heaters, fans or, in the summer, air conditioning to maximize drying.
--Remove loose items, colored throw rugs, books, magazines and other colored items from wet carpets or floors.
--Open luggage and place in sunlight to dry.
--Move valuable paintings and art to a safe, dry place.
--Hang furs, leather goods and wet fabrics to dry.
--Pull back carpeting, remove padding.
--Don't use your household vacuum to remove water.
--Don't use TV's or other appliances while standing on wet carpets, floors or concrete.
--Don't turn on ceiling fixtures if the ceiling is wet.
--Keep out of rooms with sagging, wet ceilings.
--Call your insurance company and get a referral to water-damage cleanup firms.
--Don't ignore the problem. "You definitely want to get it taken care of right away," Lindquist said. "If you let it sit, you can get secondary damage, ... or you can end up with situations like mold."


Sources: Servpro and Disaster Kleenup Better Floors


To see more of The Orange County Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ocregister.com. (c) 2005, The Orange County Register, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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