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Bad weather sometimes means good business

Bad weather sometimes means good business


Melodee Haagenson looked at the man in charge of drying her carpet and fixing her walls and joked woefully, “I feel like we’re friends. You pull an all-nighter and you get close real fast.”

Haagenson was up all night Tuesday with Shane Dayley, general manager of Crystal Clean Inc., and three of his employees, who were pumping water out of her Billings Heights home on Red Wing Circle.

Thursday afternoon as three dehumidifiers continued to suck up moisture and 16 large snail-shaped fans blew under and over the waving carpet, Haagenson was sizing up the potential costs for the storm damage.

Carpet was torn out of two rooms. The pads were removed under the carpet in six more rooms. Water snuck through an upstairs deck and soaked the basement drywall. And the wind blew out two windows.

That doesn’t count that hassle of moving personal belongings out of eight rooms and back in again. She and her sisters were headed back from a road trip to Harlowton, when the hail storm caught them.

“We got caught in the storm out by Acton and we had to wait for the rain to end, so we could see,” she said.

Back home, Haagenson had left some windows open and found water and silt in her home.

moreinfo Storm insurance factoids

Montana has licensed 770 companies to sell property and casualty insurance.

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company of Illinois is the largest homeowner insurer in Montana with $22.3 million policies written in 2000.

Safeco Insurance Company of America was the second largest with $15.9 million in policies for last year.

Summer snowstorm still buffeting Bozeman

The city of Bozeman will spend another month and $300,000 to clean up debris from the freak June 13th snowstorm.

James Goehrung, Bozeman’s superintendent of facilities and lands, said the 8 to 9 inches of wet snow on fully leafed-out trees knocked down branches all over the city. Goehrung said pickup won’t be completed until the end of July.

“Bozeman already has 546 tons of storm debris chipped up at the landfill. We still have as much material on the ground,” he said.

After the cleanup, Goehrung estimated it will take his crews another year to trim storm-damaged trees around the city.

But a homeowner’s heartbreak can mean bellwether business for some companies.

Disaster drillPointing over the pool table, stacked high with boxes, Haagenson said, “The window over here was just blown out. The window wasn’t in its slot at all.”

Dayley guessed her cleanup bill at between $1,500 and $2,000.

And that’s just the start.

“Replacing the carpet, because this wasn’t cheap carpet, probably is going to take another $3,000 to $4,000, including cleaning the tile,” Dayley said.

Haagenson said she hadn’t seen her State Farm insurance adjuster by Thursday and didn’t know if the damages would be covered.

Homeowners insurance generally doesn’t cover damages from groundwater entering a home from the outside. And homeowners have to live in a flood plain to buy flood insurance, said Laura Doan, owner of Laurel Insurance Agency.

“When we sell a policy, we tell them, but they have a tendency to forget,” Doan said. “When you remind them groundwater isn’t covered, they remember. But they still are disappointed.”

Even without insurance, Dayley of Crystal Clean said there really isn’t a choice but to pay now or pay more later. When silt and water flows into a house, he said mildew and mold can become a problem in as little as 24 hours.

“Had we not come in with the dehumidifiers and drying equipment, it could have cost at least $10,000 to $15,000 to remodel the basement rooms,” he said.

Dayley said his business fielded about 40 calls for cleanup from Tuesday’s storm, about the same number of calls from the mid-June rainstorm when it rained for a day-and-a-half.

Haagenson and her husband, Bill, spent the last year remodeling the house and their carpet was only a year old. Many other Billings area homeowners are just finding out the costs of storm damage and limits of insurance.

Anatomy of a cleanupAcross Highway 312, bricklayers helping build a new house in the White Tail Subdivision said the winds ripped off the scaffolding.

Milo Harper, owner of Harper Masonry of Shepherd, said the storm also knocked all the roof trusses off a house across the street, also being built by developer Sheldon Wolf.

“He figures it was a twister. It took a 2x4 and stuck it right into the wall,” Harper said.

While the National Weather Service said no tornadoes officially were spotted Tuesday, many property owners are feeling the financial bite of catastrophic weather.

Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative will have to pay out of pocket for wind damage to a transmission line near Huntley.

General manager Terry Holzer estimates the cost to repair nearly a mile of flattened poles at $50,000. He said it will cost another $10,000 to replace 10 transformers blown out by lightning strikes. After overtime, Holzer said the storm’s bill will probably top $75,000.

“This is a total expense to us. This is too risky to insure this equipment, so you can’t afford the premiums,” Holzer said.

And Holzer said that was some gust of wind that knocked down poles designed to withstand 100 mph winds.

“If that isn’t a tornado, I’d sure hate to see one,” he said.

Hail to LaurelOn the other end of the Yellowstone Valley, hail took its toll on Tam and Bill Rodier’s five-year-old home along Buffalo Horn Drive in East Laurel.

“The hail and rain and the wind all stripped the little sand off the asphalt shingles,” Tam Rodier said. The wind bent the air conditioner fan and broke out three of the four skylights on the couple’s 5th-wheel trailer.

The wind also blew the outside lights off their house. Rodier is the administrative coordinator of the Public Works Department for the city of Billings. At work, she hasn’t seen a rash of building permits to repair damage from Tuesday’s storm, but she said insurance adjusters are still assessing damage claims.

Doan of Laurel Insurance said most of her claims have been for automobiles.

Unlike a hail storm a decade ago, this one was sporadic, she said.

“After the storm we had in 1991, everybody in Laurel turned a claim in. That was a busy week,” Doan said.

Bad weather is good business for someJune was a good month thanks to bad weather for some auto body companies, including Hank’s Body Shop on the West End of Billings.

Herb Gabel, owns the 37-year-old business with his brother, Dale, and sister, Donna Gabel. He repaired several Billings cars and trucks caught up in a bad hail storm in Bismarck, N.D., three weeks ago including a 1996 Lincoln Continental with $8,000 to $9,000 in body damage.

  JOHN WARNER/Gazette Staff
  Shane Dayley of Crystal Clean Inc. works with the carpet and blowers used to eleviate the situation.

He spent two days writing bids on Tuesday’s storm.

“These Laurel calls – we’ve got nothing from Billings yet – range from $3,000 to $5,000,” Gabel said.

King’s Ace Hardware on Central Avenue saw some additional business.

“We had quite a lot of sump pump business and a fair amount of roof patches,” said store manager Jim Lee.

S Bar S Supply Co., in hard-hit Lockwood, reported selling roofing materials to storm victims.

Rental businesses had a rush on water pumps and chain saws to cut up fallen trees.

Still, Jim Pelissier, owner of Total Rental Inc. on Central Avenue, would rather see his regular construction customers.

“These darn storms, you lose more regular business than you gain from storm victims,” Pelissier said.

By Thursday, Home Depot saw only a slight effect from the storm.

“I have had some people buying window well covers, but we haven’t seen a big rush on them,” said Assistant Manager Jason Knorpp. “I’ve seen some storm gutters go out, people trying to get the water away from their foundation.”

Farmers Insurance agent Tom Crawford said window well covers go a long way toward keeping water out of your house, unless the water is gushing past the foundation.

“If we have a big hail storm, it may punch holes in the cover, but it probably won’t flood the basement,” he said.

Meanwhile, Smith of State Farm put this storm in perspective.

“In 1991, a huge hailstorm hit the whole area. That storm was of a magnitude that Montana almost never sees,” Smith said. “State Farm paid out nearly $25 million just in the Billings area and there were 10,000 to 12,000 claims just with our company. That is one we hope we don’t see again.”

He said the ’91 storm was far worse than a hail storm in July 1958 that creamed Billings.

“The damage was far greater 10 years ago because there were so many more homes and higher value homes,” he said. “In the ’50s, Billings was still mostly agricultural.”

Jan Falstad can be contacted at (406) 657-1306 or at


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