Flash Flood Alley Segements

All Things Celtic:

  Flood Damage A magazine article written by the store owner about her devasting experience:

On November 15, (that’s right fellow retailers, one week before Thanksgiving) the Austin area had a tremendous thunderstorm event. Six tornadoes rolled through town; there was hail, lightning and 13 inches of rain in some areas. In Texas, when we have a storm, we have a proper STORM. The sleepy little creek outside the back door of my shop became a rampaging monster in less than an hour.

My husband and I had been hanging Christmas decorations in the front window when we got a call from a concerned customer. She told us to watch the local weather report. I went next door to the café, which has a big screen TV. Sure enough, the broadcast was warning of flash floods and tornadoes. We watched on the back patio as the water was visibly rising. Time to start packing!

What to take? Knowing that a flood would come sooner or later, we had developed an emergency plan. We always keep large plastic storage boxes in the back room: great for taking products to shows and festivals. We had planned to load up my husband’s Chevy Suburban with everything we could carry. But it wouldn’t be a true emergency if everything went according to plan, on this particular day my husband’s Suburban was at the body shop, How much stock can you fit into a ’92 Nissan Sentra? Oh yes, and still have room for the two school children you have to pick up on the way home? Answer: not much.

We loaded about four of the storage boxes with all the gold and silver jewelry off the shelves. In the 20 minutes or so it took to do that, the water was beginning to lap at the doors. I remembered to grab the laptop MAC off the desk on my way out, best spent 30 seconds of the last year. I had kept all the invoices and receipts in plastic storage crates so that I could get them out quickly, now I didn’t have room to take them. I made sure all the current records were up on top of a table, unfortunately that wasn’t high enough.

We had to drive out through the rising water as we left, not knowing if there would still be a business to come back to the next morning. When my husband went back to check on the shop a few hours later, he was just about devastated. We had seen a minor flood in August, just a few inches one night, which we had cleaned up in before the shop had opened the next day. This time we had 39 inches, a full meter of nasty, slimy, dirty creek water and street run off.

WARNING: If it’s wood, then it floats! I know that sounds obvious, but just imagine all your bookcases, display cases, tables, and curio cabinets floating around the room. Then imagine them crashing into each other and overturning, spilling all their contents into the muck, Yuk!

How to survive:
Step one: Buy Flood Insurance
We had known this area was prone to flooding. In 1981, 14 people had died in a flash flood, and our building had had more than six feet of water. We signed up for flood insurance the day we signed the lease. Flood insurance is expensive, but on this occasion we made back every dime invested, and then some.

Step two: Have a plan in advance.
Our plan wasn’t perfect, but when we realized it was time to go, we knew what needed to be done. We didn’t argue or debate; we grabbed the boxes and started packing. Gold first, then silver. Let’s face it 45% of our sales are jewelry. Some people will say, oh you can just wash those things off and put them out for sale. No way, the few pieces we forgot, or dumped in from tipped over cases, never looked the same after washing.

Step three: Always back up your hard drive.
OK, I only do mine once a month after I balance the checkbook. but it’s worth it to know that you have a second copy of everything. Oh yeah, don’t store it near your computer, if you loose the computer in a disaster, you don’t want to loose the back up as well. I keep my zip disc in my purse.

Step four: Have friends!
You can buy these at any local Celtic/Irish/Scottish festival. Help out your community by donating to fundraising events. Be a sponsor, be a contributor, be there when the community needs you, and they will return the favor when you need them. Our friends in the Celtic community donated hundreds of hours to helping us clean up and get back on our feet. Folks took things home to wash, and brought them back for the “after flood” sale. People helped shovel out the mud (and the little frogs hopping around). Local pubs donated hot meals and after work refreshments. A local DJ coordinated most of our volunteer help on a co-op radio station, for which we are the only Celtic sponsors.

Step five: Know your landlord.
At least be on friendly terms. Ours is a saint. He called us the day after the flood to let us know he would cover any and all expenses related to damage of the building, all we had to do was cover our stock and fixtures. Which was quite enough. We have been good (dare I say great) tenants. We always pay the rent in full and on time. We never bother him with petty problems, and we’ve gone to great lengths to improve the property. He in turn is there when we need him.

Step Six: Don’t kill the insurance adjuster.
It was two days before the adjuster arrived, during that time we had begun to bag the damaged merchandise. When he got there he only spent about 15 minutes, but told me he would need receipts for everything we were claiming. After many phone calls, and about four versions of my claim, I realized what the insurance bureaucrats really want is not a list of every single item you are claiming. No one really wants to read 13 pairs of socks at $6 per pair. What they want is proof you could really have $100,000 worth of stock in your shop. So you must be able to produce recent invoices of purchases you have made. My final report came to 218 pages; over 200 pages of copies of water damaged invoices. In the end I did get a full settlement, and the check arrived the week before Christmas.

On the bright side:

Step one: All the free publicity you could ever want.

The local news channels are starved for stories. Give them one. Cry. Hug your friends. Be a strong survivor. Be the immigrant success story. Be the “my father came from Ireland” and I’m bringing his culture to America story. You’ll have new customers coming by who never knew you existed.

Step two: Have a sale!
We had a huge sidewalk sale of damaged merchandise the day after the Thanksgiving. This was the single busiest day we’ve ever had hundreds of customers and thousands of dollars.

Step three: Clean house.
This is the perfect time to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t. Getting tired of those beautiful dolls, which look great, but take put precious shelf space and never did sell well? What about those all those CDs of music no one ever buys? Gee, what a shame if they all tipped into the muck and you had claim them on the insurance. That doesn’t mean you have to use the insurance money to replace them with identical items, now is a great chance to try something new!

I promised I’d write a short piece about recovering from disaster. Now I’ve written the manual. I hope you never have to use it.