February 19, 1996 in Nation/World

Businesses Struggle To Resurface Most Have Flood Insurance; Others May Receive Federal Help

Eric Torbenson Staff writer
 

(From For the Record, Tuesday, February 20, 1996:) The Federal Emergency Management Agency asks that disaster victims looking for assistance call (800) 462-9029 between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. A story in Monday’s paper printed a number to a temporary office that has since been changed.

Ankle-deep mud coated every inch of the St. Maries Super Foods floor after the recent flooding.

Now, the store is open for business. The effort in between was the “most incredible thing I think I’ve ever experienced,” said store manager Chester Schilling, who’s managed supermarkets for seven years.

“We’ve renamed the store St. Maries Soggy Foods.”

Small businesses throughout the region are mopping up floodwater and turning to the U.S. Small Business Administration to keep them from being washed away in a river of red ink.

Scores of shops in St. Maries remain under water after the worst flooding in decades caused millions of dollars in damage and ruined inventory. A handful of small businesses in Cataldo also felt the muddy rage of the flooding, although most of the damage there has been endured by homeowners.

Most businesses have flood insurance, said Ruth Rathbun, executive director of the Greater St. Joe Development Association.

Her estimates show that 42 St. Maries businesses were damaged by the floods, and she says it may be too much for some to come back.

“It would depend on how much flood insurance each one has,” she said.

The dike system in St. Maries needs to be plugged before all of the standing water in town can be pumped out, Rathbun said. That means many business owners and insurance adjusters won’t be able to get to their properties for several days.

For business owners without flood insurance or whose insurance won’t cover all the damage, help still can be just a phone call away.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency works with the Small Business Administration to provide disaster loans for flood victims.

Owners of homes and businesses can call FEMA for a quick over-the-phone interview to establish if they’re eligible for assistance and for how much, said Karl Whittington of the SBA. FEMA has established a temporary office with the SBA in Coeur d’Alene at (800) 245-1436.

The federal programs are available to flood victims in Idaho and Washington.

Of those who apply for assistance, 90 percent wouldn’t be able to get a loan at a bank or find cash elsewhere, according to the SBA’s records.

That makes the SBA the only source for flood relief, which comes in the form of low-interest loans and help in restructuring past debts.

The SBA loans money directly to flood victims under two programs:

Physical disaster loans. These are the most common types of loans for homeowners, renters, non-farm businesses and all types of non-profit organizations.

Economic injury disaster loans. This program gives small businesses the crucial cash flow to pull out of a disaster such as a flood.

If a business can’t find credit elsewhere, it can get loans for up to $1.5 million for as little as 4 percent interest. Businesses need to be reasonable credit risks to get the money, meaning they have to be able to pay the funds back through earnings.

When Schilling gave up the fight to stop the St. Joe River from visiting his meat department, getting loans secured was the furthest thing from his mind.

First, the perishable food had to go. Tens of thousands of dollars of meat, vegetables and baked goods were loaded up. The choice his bosses had was to send the food to other stores in Montana or to donate it to the Red Cross.

“We made the choice to donate the food because so many people out here needed it,” Schilling said. “Our loss here was a great help to the community.”

Another $200,000 of non-perishable goods were sent to three Super Foods stores in Montana.

Much of the St. Maries store was damaged, and Schilling figures it could take about two years for the store to get its books even.

Two feet of water dropped 2 to 3 inches of silt through the aisles. Schilling and a crew who grew to more than 60 people dug in, replacing a huge wooden wall and anything else wooden that the water had touched. “You just can’t get the smell out, so it has to go.”

Using pressure hoses hooked up to fire hydrants, Schilling and crew pushed, scrubbed and beat back the mud. Next came replacing the wooden wall; drywall, paint, nails and sweat made the store look “as if nothing had happened.”

A coin-operated laundry next door could be a big loss for the company because the water voided warranties on $40,000 worth of new washers. A carwash next door has reopened but also faces damage, Schilling said.

“We’re hiring anybody who shows up to help us restock,” he said. “We just make ‘em fill out a W-4, do the identification, give ‘em a timecard and say see you later. We’ve got a lot of kids here who are out of school anyway working for us.”

The deadline for filing applications for flood damage loan assistance for homes and businesses is April 11.

The deadline for the economic injury loans for small businesses is Nov. 12, according to the SBA.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

Cut in the Spokane edition.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email