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Clean sweep: Disaster up close

by Patricia Harman

If you’ve never experienced a flood or fire in person, then consider yourself lucky. Many people in Nashville, Tenn., haven’t been so fortunate. More than 16 inches of rain fell over two days in early May, causing the rivers and streams in and around the city to overflow. I had an opportunity to travel through some parts of Nashville a few weeks ago to see the devastation and restoration efforts under way. RIA member firms surveyed damage and triaged locations as the rain stopped. Within hours they had teams working in places such as Opry Mills Mall, Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, AO Smith Plant and local hospitals, nursing homes, a host of historic buildings, mills and factories, apartment complexes, schools, hotels, office buildings, homes and other structures.

Many companies set up command centers by the major projects which included tractor trailers of supplies and equipment; safety stations; trailers to hold office personnel, computers and administrative necessities; tents for personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution and cleaning; catering facilities and eating areas to provide meals to the teams working 24/7; fueling stations; portable toilets and staging areas for equipment.

Security was another important aspect of these projects. Large areas like the Opryland Hotel, Opry Mills and public facilities or other major downtown buildings had multiple checkpoints. Restoration crews wore badges to access work areas and security guards continuously patrolled the grounds. No one entered without proper identification or permits.

The catastrophe zone

Most people do not understand the challenges of working in a catastrophe zone. Often basic amenities are unavailable, so contractors must bring everything they need with them. Personnel working on these projects don’t know what they’ll encounter or when they’ll go home. They come prepared for numerous scenarios and expect to spend days, or even weeks, working around the clock.

In Nashville, locations’ contents were damaged by the flood waters, many beyond repair. But today’s restoration technology enables knowledgeable restoration contractors to clean and restore both hard and some soft contents to their pre-damaged state.

Hard surfaces and some hard contents can be cleaned and restored. For carpeting and rugs it depends on their exposure and how long they were wet, as well as other factors.

There were entire neighborhoods where discarded contents were piled up along the side of the street waiting for FEMA or other haulers to take trash to one of the area’s four separation centers. At the separation sites there were piles of trash as high as the surrounding trees, an indication of the belongings lost. Wood furniture, doors, discarded wood framing and recyclable metal were separated from the other materials.

Clean-up efforts will continue for months, but those who survived the flooding are undeterred by the work and rebuilding they face. The restoration firms working in Nashville are helping to slowly return the city to the vibrant musical mecca known as the home of country music. The only goal is to make it better for everyone.