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When the dust settled from last week's tornado, many Mid-Missourians went to work.
That's because other things settled, too — trees on top of houses, broken window glass on hardwood floors and mangled sections of roof on the ground near the buildings they once topped.
The end of the storm started a flurry of activity for local businesses whose services include disaster restoration and cleanup.
"There is no keeping up," said Lee Alford, chief executive officer of Alford Tree Service in Jefferson City. "We'll be working on this storm the rest of the summer."
Alford's crew was busy before the tornado hit. The turnaround time from when the company did a customer's consultation to when they could perform the work had been about 30 days. Now it's more like 90 days for the typical jobs they'd be doing this time of year.
"You take the priority stuff, and you deal with the stuff where, like, there's a tree in a house — that takes precedence over a tree in a yard. We triage the situations that are the most extreme," Alford said last week. "People are waiting to get a tree out of the way to get the power back on — even that is a four- or five-day wait right now. That's probably the most stressful thing right now."
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Disaster restoration companies, too, have had to prioritize emergency situations amid a flood of calls for service over the past week.
"The first day we probably had 60 calls, and then probably 50 calls the next day, and it's just nonstop calls," said Lisa Lehman, owner of ServiceMaster Restoration Services by Aerodry in Jefferson City. "The biggest thing that people have called about is their roofs and windows because you have to get that tarped up or boarded up before you do anything else."
Compromised roofs are ServiceMaster's first focus and the calls they try to answer within hours, Lehman said. "If their house needs tarping and they still have contents in their house, then that's priority because tarping is what we consider emergency. The roof is protecting everything inside, so that has to be done right away."
Then they check for water damage and begin removing salvageable items from the home.
"If they don't have electricity, then you find out if they have food in their freezers yet — that's one of the first things that people need to get out," Lehman said. "Some of the homes, they couldn't even get in their front door, so we had to lift up their entryway and support it so they could get in."
And, she added, sometimes trees and debris have to be cleared before a roof can even be tarped.
Tree removal after a storm is precision work, removing limbs that aren't bearing pressure one by one until all that's left is a single point of pressure on a house, car or whatever the tree fell on.
"Basically, what we are dealing with is broken trees that haven't touched the ground yet, that are extremely dangerous," Alford said. "It's a game of Jenga that will kill you."
That's why he would warn homeowners to think carefully about doing dangerous cleanup work themselves.
"There's a point where you have to let the professionals do their job," he said.
Some residents working with ServiceMaster, which serves as a general contractor in the repair and rebuilding process, might return to their tornado-damaged homes within six to eight weeks, Lehman said, while others with extensive damage could have another year of rebuilding ahead of them.
"I've been in Jefferson City since 1985, and I don't remember any tornado ever coming through town," Alford said. "Hopefully this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Hire contractors carefully
Alford said he has already heard "horror stories" about scams and price-gouging situations in the wake of the storm.
"You've got us local guys, and then all of a sudden you see these names that I've never heard of. You've got guys in pickup trucks running around handing out business cards knocking on doors," he said. "They know that we can't do all of it, and they're going to get the scraps, and they're going to hurt people."
The Home Builders Association of Central Missouri, too, has been informed about issues such as out-of-town and out-of-state contractors not obtaining proper work permits.
"They need to make sure they call the city and find out if they need a permit and go the correct route for that," said Rachel Andrews, HBA of Central Missouri executive officer.
Other potential problems HBA advises those hiring contractors to be wary of include scammers — people who accept a payment or deposit and leave before finishing the work or don't perform quality work.
"If a contractor asks for more than 50 percent down, it's kind of a red flag. Generally, never pay more than 30 percent (as a deposit)," Andrews said. "If they offer any kind of financing, that's usually kind of a red flag as well."
HBA of Central Missouri recommends the following guidelines when hiring contractors after a natural disaster, as outlined in a recent news release:
Get a written estimate and contract. Compare the cost estimate from your insurance provider with the estimate by the restoration contractor. They most likely won't match exactly but should be similar for the covered loss.
Ask for and check references. Call several former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
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Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property.
Use licensed contractors.
Get guarantees in writing. A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses.
Obtain local building permits if required. Permits may be required for site work and reconstruction. Contact your local government for permit information.
Pay by check after the work is completed. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check to the contracting company.