Jackson workers get back to business after tornado

Friday, May 16, 2003

Nine days after the tornado, businessmen and women are working to get their damaged operations running again.

For some, the doors are already open -- burgers are being served and antiques are being sold again. For others, it'll be a long road back.

"The resiliency has been amazing," said Jackson Chamber of Commerce executive director Ken Parrett. "I think we are doing remarkably well. So many adjusters are required in other places, it's just a slow process. It's not going to happen overnight, but we're making progress."

Ceramo Co., a Jackson flower pot factory that took a direct hit on the evening of May 6, was forced to temporarily lay off 24 people until it can make repairs to its buildings.

Stone Manes, the corporate secretary-treasurer of Ceramo, said some employees may be laid off for up to two months.

"I think we'll have all of them back," he said. "They'll receive unemployment benefits during that time. We'll probably be calling people back, not all at one time, but as we need more help in reconstruction."

June O'Dell, special projects manager with the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, said the state's Division of Workforce Development is in the process of applying for a national grant geared to help workers affected by tornadoes.

She said the grant would help those who were laid off by subsidizing wages that would be used to clean up after the disaster. It would not go toward materials, but for wages only.

"That's what we're about, getting people back to work," she said. "We don't know how much money we might get, but since we were hit pretty heavy, we're hoping for some and some is better than none."

Ceramo, which employed 68 at the time of the tornado, is operating from one office that wasn't destroyed. Maintenance workers, office workers and executive staff are working. Stone said he didn't have an exact damage estimate, but more than $1 million in damage was done to the facility.

The other businesses severely damaged were mostly small operations like the K-9 Training Center, run by Larry Stone. The center was completely wiped off its foundation.

Stone was able to quickly find another location to rent, the old B&B Marine shop at 611 W. Jackson Blvd. He said he hopes to open the boarding and daycare portion of his business on Friday. The training aspect of his business won't be ready until around June 9. Stone has trained up to 94 dogs during a six-week course and averaged about 75 dogs per session last year.

The tornado was a setback, but Stone said he's looking forward to moving on.

"I need signs, but I think the new location will be good for exposure purposes," he said. "We're looking forward to it."

Staying or going

Beverly Hill and Larry Davis, owners of Crosscreek Antique Mall at 422 Old Cape Road, were put in a state of limbo by the tornado. They didn't know if they would relocate or stay put. But the owners of their building decided the building could be repaired, so Crosscreek would stay.

They reopened their doors for business on Wednesday. The couple oversees antique booth spaces rented by 25 dealers. They lost one dealer due to tornado damage. Damage was done to merchandise, particularly on the second floor.

Davis was busy Thursday polishing furniture. He and Hill have been working 12- to 13-hour days getting things back in order.

"If people don't mind the chaos and the mess, we're open for business," Hill said.

Owners of another antique business weren't so lucky.

Garry and Gail Seabaugh, owners of Seabaugh Woodworking, didn't have enough insurance on their buildings on East Main, which were destroyed, and no insurance on their merchandise.

And since the couple worked there, they have no income to fall back on. Garry Seabaugh said he hopes to have his business under roof in six months.

Garry said they've had some financial help and plenty of volunteers and businesses came to their aid.

"We can laugh about it now, at least," Garry said. "The first couple of days, we didn't laugh at all. It still seems like a bad dream."

Philip Leimer, vice president of Kasten Building Supply, said his business has set up a temporary office in one of the few buildings on their East Adams property that wasn't destroyed. Leimer's business mainly deals with commercial cabinet makers, selling hardwood.

He said the business wasn't hit too hard by material losses, although several buildings were destroyed.

Leimer said some of his customers came to his rescue, allowing Kasten to store lumber at other facilities.

While customers assisted Kasten Building Supply, the employees of Sonic Drive-in sped up the opening of the fast-food shop when they worked -- on the clock -- pulling off loose metal and repairing the building.

Sonic general manager Bruce Maxwell said it would've taken two or three days for repairs to get started on the building if they hadn't done something themselves

"We've got some pretty smart ol' boys working here," Maxwell. "It was a team effort and we used no outside help whatsoever. They did it for pay, but it was beyond the call of duty."

Sonic was back in business at 6 p.m. Friday, three days after the tornado.

Parett said any business owner who needs information dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is welcome to call or stop by the chamber of commerce.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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