sports journalist

RYAN S. CLARK

By Ryan S. Clark

 

BRIDGE CITY - Getting mold out of a home flooded by a by hurricane storm surge takes more than opening the windows with box fans blowing humid air around.

 

Instead, workers wearing protective hazardous material gear haul in 70-plus pound industrial blowers.

 

While they lose water weight horsing heavy equipment around, those spinning fan blades force huge volumes of dry-ing air through the soaked home.

 

It's dirty, smelly, hot and wearying labor.

 

"Doing this job involves a lot of hard work," said J.R. Leija, a head project manager for Servpro of Beaumont, a cleanup and restoration company.

 

Tuesday marked the second day that Leija and his crew restored a Bridge City home with mold 5 feet high, created by surge from Hurricane Ike that swept through the community a month ago.

 

Lately, many of Servpro's jobs are of the nasty mold variety such as the one Neal Hargrave requested.

 

The 45-year-old construction worker said he wanted to know if mold was in his house, and after hiring a third-party inspector, he learned that his home needed work.

 

Hargrave said he and his wife have been living in their camper parked outside their home while the repairs are being made.

 

"Yeah, it's tight," he said about the living conditions. "But that is why we bought the camper in case of things like this."

 

A review of the damaged home revealed windows with dark-colored lines showing how high the flood water rose.

 

Leija and his crew Tuesday were on hands and knees, scrubbing, cleansing and drying every stud, nook, cranny and crevice in sight.

 

A cleanup crew gets started by surveying areas where mold has spread, and there are different approaches to attack-ing the problem.

 

The first stage involves controlling airflow entering the home, allowing the plywood wall to dry out. Then there is the clearing out of every crevice in the home.

 

A second step includes vacuuming the walls to soak up the moisture and also sanitizing the walls so mold will not spread to the cleaned areas.

 

That is where a behemoth, 70-pound air scrubber comes into play.

 

Leija said the air scrubber brings in negative air that purifies the oxygen inside, resulting in the walls being com-pletely mold free.

 

"After that we have an inspector come in and check out our work," he said. "The inspector is not from our company, so he can come in, check our work and let us know if this home is mold-free or not."

 

And if cleaning every open space of a 2,500-square-foot home doesn't sound hard, think again.

 

Leija said that because of the materials they work with, regulations require his crew wear a specialized face mask and a body suit, which does not exactly provide the world's best ventilation.

 

While wearing all that gear, a crew member will lift that 70-pound air scrubber multiple times, haul a commercial vacuum, not sit down for hours at a time and squat hundreds of times while cleaning and drying a home throughout the day.

 

Crew members might lose around 2 pounds a day despite drinking water non-stop and eating a full-course lunch and dinner, he said.

 

"We try to eat a good, full-course meal, but sometimes you just go after what you can grab," he said.

 

It takes five to seven days to restore a home, and the work load becomes more demanding for commercial jobs such as cleaning a refinery, he said.

 

"This house, man, this is easy compared to other things we've done," said Leija, who has taken only one day off since Ike hit Sept. 13.

 

Bill Callahan, Servpro vice president of production, said others have not been as lucky, as all but one crew had Sun-day off.

 

That is just how demanding business has been since Servpro was contracted by Motiva Enterprises to restore portions of the refinery shortly after Ike made landfall.

 

From there, Motiva hired the company to restore more than 120 homes belonging to the refinery's employees.

 

That resulted in the company bringing in assistance from franchises in other states such as Alabama and Florida.

 

It also prompted Callahan to hire extra help before the storm.

 

Prior to the storm, the average crew size was three people per job and 15 employees on staff.

 

Those numbers shot up to five people per job and nearly 40 employees.

 

"We stay in contact with a staffing agency in case we need people," he said. "Fortunately for us, we were able to get all that taken care of before all this happened."

Post-Ike cleanup challenges restoration company

Business  |  Oct. 14, 2008  |  Page 1A

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