Hurricane Katrina ripped through Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and has left millions without homes or businesses. While many may rebuild their lives in time, some will not return to the region to live or work. Unfortunately, the numbers may include HVAC businesses, wiped out by the ravages of wind, rain, and flooding.

According to News' contractor consultant Tom Lawson, owner of Advanced Air Conditioning & Heating, Shreveport, La., some HVAC businesses to the south, in New Orleans, will never return. "People can't wait three or four months to start up their businesses again," Lawson said. "They've got families to feed. Contractors are basically out of business. There is nothing to go back to."

He added that it is likely that many people will settle with insurance companies - in several months - and start their lives over again somewhere else. "I wouldn't be surprised if half of these people cash out [insurance claims] and move for good," Lawson noted.

Contractor Will Clause of Southern Breeze Air Conditioning & Heating in the Gulf Coast community of Pensacola, Fla., has a lot of family in New Orleans. He acknowledged the life-changing effects of Hurricane Katrina.

"The HVAC work will disappear in New Orleans," he said. "There is nothing you can do - you have to move on."

"If you live or work in New Orleans, you are probably better off moving away and starting all over again," Lawson said. "If it was me and I was working for someone who lost their business, I'd move and start all over again.

"Think about a service technician in New Orleans. There won't be anything to work on for months. Most live paycheck-to-paycheck. They can't survive this."

Future workers are also affected, according to Lawson. "And look at the students enrolled at the University of New Orleans," he said. "They've just lost a year of their college life because colleges have already started and enrollments are filled. A college education isn't like a job. You can always get a job but you can't walk into a college and say, ‘I lost my college and need to enroll here.'"

Affecting Other Businesses?

Lawson said the disaster 400 miles to his south did not affect his business. In fact, because this has been the best year his company has ever had, he said he could use another technician - perhaps one from the New Orleans area. "I've got good technicians now, but if another good, high-quality technician comes up here, he will be hired," he said.

He also knows that there will be a lot of HVAC work in New Orleans because "every HVAC system will have to be replaced" and he added that any contractors looking to work in New Orleans may need a special license above and beyond a Louisiana license.

But the tragedy has affected Lawson's staff. One of his employees hadn't heard from his mother-in-law, a Mississippi resident, for several days after Hurricane Katrina hit. He added that communities like Shreveport will be doing what they can to aid fellow Louisiana residents, including sending truckloads of necessary supplies and providing food and shelter to people who have left New Orleans. It isn't just his area or the Gulf communities that will feel repercussions from Katrina.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina and the impact on refining capacity and crude oil distribution, several states from the lower Midwest to the Mid-South experienced a severe diesel fuel shortage.

After the disaster, many refueling facilities either rationed fuel or ran out completely. Those states included: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The EPA declared this a natural disaster and predicted a significant impact on fuel distribution.

Effective Sept. 1, 2005, the U.S. Postal Service stopped accepting any standard mail or periodicals - from any source - addressed for delivery within the following three-digit ZIP code ranges: 369, 393, 394, 395, 396, 700 and 701 (ZIP codes in and around New Orleans, and parts of Alabama and Mississippi).

"This affects the whole United States, and not just fuel costs," Lawson added. "The rail system is affected. I talked with a Union Pacific railroad person and he said he doesn't even know how many cars and locomotives were under water in New Orleans."

The News will continue to update readers on the plight of people and businesses in the HVACR trade who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina ( Their stories may provide insight into how HVACR businesses deal with the effects of natural disasters.

Publication date: 09/12/2005