Last week’s flooding was supposed to have sent thousands of government and private sector workers home. Instead, many of them went shoe shopping.
Hundreds of people gathered outside People’s Shoe Store on Flemming Street last Thursday after they heard owner Harb Bazar was selling $100 pairs of flood-drenched Nikes for $5. More than a dozen police officers responded to monitor the crowd, which left Mr. Bazar overwhelmed.
“I couldn’t sell anything. There was just too much people to deal with,” he said. “It’s going to take a while, a couple of weeks, for us to get back to normal.”
Getting back to normal is the priority for businesses islandwide who spent several days after the rains drying out, clearing out mud and assessing the damage caused by the 24 inches of rain that fell from Oct. 5 to last Thursday.
In a press release issued Friday by the office of Premier Ralph O’Neal, he declared the territory back “open for business.”
For many businesses, though, it wasn’t that simple.
For Sordia Felix, owner of The Light House in Purcell, the rains marked the third time her store has flooded in six weeks. Her Lower Estate home flooded, too. The specialty lighting store was hit hard by Hurricane Earl and then flooded twice last week, she said.
“The last one was more damage because my top filing cabinet and all that get wet. So all my documents them are soaking,” she said. “I hardly have files on the majority of my stuff right now.”
As she spoke Tuesday, she held up a 25-watt energy-saving globe bulb that was mostly filled with brown water.
“It set me back a lot. Customers come in and they can’t get their stuff. Nearly everything I have is damaged. A lot of stuff,” she said.
Still, Ms. Felix said that she’s grateful for the support she’s received from her friends who helped clean up. Her suppliers and customers were understanding, too.
“They saw what happen and say ‘I understand.’ A few called to see how I was making out. I couldn’t ask for better customers,” she said.
Across the street at Caribbean Cellars on Tuesday, the cleaning of the thousands of beer, wine and liquor bottles had finished, but employees were still coping with the mess. The company had to throw out nearly 2,000 cases of products, according to Marketing Manager Magali Cadoux. The company also had to close for four days and hire extra temporary staff to assist its 20 employees in cleaning.
“You know you have to clean everything, and you’re dealing with the insurance. You have to find all the invoices for them and everything was wet,” Ms. Cadoux said.
Pictures she took after the flood show employees driving a forklift trying to reposition submerged pallets of alcohol. And while most of the products can be restocked within weeks, some can’t.
“What we lost in terms of wine from France, French Champagne, you need three months to get them because of the shipping,” she said.
For Mr. Bazar of People’s Shoe Store, the disorganisation brought by the rain caused the biggest problem. As the floods hit, he and his employees threw the shoes floating around his store into plastic bags, but 80 percent of those, he estimated, were mismatched.
“For me to be able to sell it, I have to find the match; for me to find the match we’d have to open basically all the bags, so I’d need this whole street from that end to the roundabout to be able to sort it out,” he said.
Though he tried at first to recover some of the losses through a sale, by Sunday he gave up and sold much of his ruined stock to a man who bought the whole lot.
“I told him, ‘take it.’ I gotta move on,” Mr. Bazar said.
Moving on is difficult, though, in part because the estimated $200,000 loss was uninsured, he said.
Under Virgin Islands law, businesses aren’t required to have insurance, according to Shan Mohamed, managing director of NAGICO in the territory. Mr. Mohamed said banks often require customers with mortgages to purchase insurance, but they haven’t always been vigilant in ensuring that those policies get renewed.
Customers should understand what is and what isn’t covered and under what conditions, he added. For example, for damaged merchandise to be covered, it has to be at least six inches off the ground under the warranties that are attached to some policies, he said.
“The reality, I believe, is that customers have to take some responsibility to read the policies. Do not wait until, God forbid, something happens,” he said.
Insurers, though, haven’t been the only businesses busy in the aftermath of the rains.
Joel Corea, manager at Corea’s Business Services, and his employees have been occupied since last Thursday cleaning flooded homes, businesses and water-damaged vehicles. Using steam cleaners, water extractors and disinfectants, Mr. Corea said he’d received a lot of requests to clean carpets, office chairs and car interiors.
“In the vehicles we see a lot of moulds. We steam-clean them and put them out to dry properly,” he said.
Mr. Corea said that he was also busy during Hurricane Earl but lately his business hasn’t slowed.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” the business owner said.