Thanks to volunteers – and flood insurance – store recovers quickly from 2017 disaster
Editor’s note: This story is part of our continuing coverage of survivors’ stories one year after Ozark County’s historic 2017 flood. See additional stories and photos on pages 2, 3 and 16.
It was raining a little on that Saturday a year ago when Jeremy Welch and Robert Hogue closed the Mansfield Building Supply store in Gainesville at noon and headed home for the weekend. But they hadn’t been home long when the phone calls started.
“People were calling to say I had water in the store,” Jeremy said Monday, describing that unforgettable day, April 29, 2017, when a record-breaking flood wreaked havoc on much of Ozark County. “I told the first guy, ‘Yeah, we’ve had water in that back building before,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s coming in the front door.’”
Jeremy called Robert, his co-worker, and they both headed back to the building supply. “But, coming from my house, the water was already over the highway, and I had go back and come around the other way,” Jeremy said.
‘We were kind of in shock’
He and Robert arrived at the store about the same time and could barely believe what they were seeing. The business’ buildings were completely surrounded by water.
“When we closed the store at noon, it hadn’t rained a whole lot at that time,” Jeremy said. “We’ve always had in mind that we’ve had some water in the back building in the past, so it could happen again. But it was never very bad.”
Jeremy has worked at Mansfield Building Supply since 1994; Robert since 2008 or so. The two men sat, tight-lipped and quiet, in a truck near the highway entrance to the Bullseye station next door to the building supply. “There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation. I think we were kind of in shock,” Jeremy said.
What they saw wasn’t just an unexpected lake around the building supply and the Bullseye station. It was more like a river. “There was a current coming down through the gas pumps and running off into our driveway,” Jeremy said. Later, when the water receded, they could see the result of that current: a hole 4 to 5 feet deep where fast-moving water had washed out the building supply’s driveway.
That Saturday evening, Jeremy and Robert waited about an hour until the water fell enough so they could wade into the Bullseye parking lot to take photos of the building supply store next door. After another couple of hours, the water had dropped enough so they could walk to the store and open the doors.
What they saw was “a big mess” – and water that was still about 18 inches deep inside the building, Jeremy said. The back buildings, including the lumber sheds, had water ranging from 3 to 5 feet deep.
The two men took photos and called the owner, Mike Roberts, in Mansfield. While Ozark County does not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, the city of Gainesville does – and Roberts carried flood insurance on the business.
“He started a claim online,” Jeremy said. “Robert and I tried to document things and assess the situation, and after that, we decided to wait and start again on Monday morning.”
Another surprise – a good one
When Monday morning came, Jeremy and Robert got another surprise – a good one this time. When they arrived at the store, “there were customers waiting here, wanting to help us. When I got here at 6:30, a couple of volunteers followed me in the door, wanting to know what they could do to help. That’s what the good part of this whole deal was. So many people came to help,” he said.
Still, it was “kind of tough,” he said, “because we didn’t know where to start. But we got going and decided that some of us would start in the front building and some would start gathering stuff in the field. We had stuff everywhere.”
Meanwhile “a couple of contractors came in and started patching up the driveway,” and a “guy with a bobcat” filled the big hole. “Everyone pitched in,” Jeremy said. “Those first days afterward, it was such a whirlwind, I couldn’t tell you what all happened.”
Throughout the cleanup operation, the store continued to do business. “The boss said, ‘If someone needs something, sell it to them,’” Jeremy said. “We never actually closed. A lot of folks needed things to get their own places fixed up, and we did what we could to help them.”
Although the store’s phones were out nearly a week because the phone jacks had been submerged, the business never lost electrical power. “Within a week, things were kind of back to normal, but it was closer to three weeks before we were really normal,” he said.
The flood insurance adjustor wanted all the flood-damaged items to be photographed, inventoried and “palletized,” meaning loaded onto shipping pallets. “So we called a couple of distributors, and they brought down tractor-trailers with curtain sides. We palletized everything and put it on the trailers,” Jeremy said. “Then our insurance company sold it all to a salvage company.”
Jeremy estimates the business lost as much as $300,000 in materials, plus the cost of cleanup and building repairs. Only materials that were under roof were covered by insurance, he said. Following the attitude of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” the building supply used lumber and other materials that had gotten wet and were “unsellable” to build a new 40’ x 96’ building on the back of the property. “It’s multicolored,” Jeremy said, referring to the water-damaged boards and materials used in the building.
The multicolored building isn’t the only reminder of the flood of 2017. Even now, a year later, “someone will come in for an item that we don’t get much call for, and you go out there where you had it, and you don’t have it because you lost it in the flood and it didn’t get replaced,” Jeremy said.