Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS A member of the media walks past a business that was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, in Rockport, Texas. Harvey’s winds and rains have damaged or destroyed many small businesses in the storm’s path along the Gulf Coast, and left others in limbo.

Waiting, watching: Business owners worry about Harvey damage

With the animals sent to safety before Harvey hit, the owners of CityVet in Houston kept watch on their empty practice by security camera, hoping not to see floodwaters rush in.

But they lost the video stream Monday morning, apparently when power to the building near Houston’s Galleria failed. So it was impossible to assess if any damage was occurring, said Paul Kline, a veterinarian based in and watching from Dallas. To his relief, the video came back Tuesday and “we could see cars going by on the street outside — a good sign,” Kline said. By Wednesday, with the rains gone, he could see the practice had indeed escaped the flooding in the area.

Plenty of small business owners spent a long five days, waiting to see if the rainfall that totalled more than 50 inches in some places would flood their businesses. Harvey’s winds and rains damaged or destroyed many small businesses in the storm’s path along the Gulf Coast.

It was a tornado spawned by Harvey that destroyed the office of Kenneth Bryant’s used-car dealership in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. The winds Saturday morning picked up the office and slammed it into the building next door.

“I lost everything in there: titles to vehicles, keys, paperwork, computers,” said Bryant, whose business was not insured. Two of the 10 cars in his inventory were destroyed.

There was more bad news on Wednesday: The remaining cars had been flooded. Bryant won’t know how severely they were damaged until he was able to unlock them.

“Where do we go from here? I don’t know. It’s going to be such a long road ahead,” Bryant said.

For many companies, damage to their premises was just the start. Some lost inventory that would cost them future sales. Workers were stranded or dealing with the devastation of their homes. Companies that couldn’t operate were losing revenue and profits every day.

Fiyyaz Pirani estimates that his Houston-based company, Medology, lost $100,000 in new business. It’s been operating with six staffers instead of its usual 60 since the storm began, and accommodating only existing customers.

“We had a couple of employees who sustained a lot of damage to their homes, and some people are in shelters,” he said.

The company, which helps patients get low-cost lab tests and other services, moved back to its regular location Tuesday from temporary quarters, with generator power but no air conditioning. Staffers were working around some puddles of water at their top-floor office.

Eleanor Rem had several inches of water in her Houston home, which also houses her business. Rem, who helps children with dyslexia learn to read, opted not to try what might have been a difficult evacuation with an 88-year-old relative.

The rains that flooded her street, backyard and driveway on Monday began creeping into her home. She and her husband got their first-floor furniture upstairs, but the carpet was soaked. Rem said she was constantly checking to see how bad the damage was.

“We’re pretty exhausted. You’re kind of nervous to go to sleep,” she said Wednesday. She expects she won’t be able to work for several weeks, in part because her students may not be able to get to her home.

Other business owners who tried to keep an eye on their companies by watching the video from surveillance cameras ran into the same problems as the veterinary practice.

With all three of Clint Hall’s Beef Jerky Outlet stores near Houston in danger of flooding, he watched from his home in Cypress. The Galveston Island store got a foot of water as the rains continued Monday and Tuesday, but he could see the Tomball location was safe. The League City shop lost power and its cameras on Saturday, so Hall had to rely on the owner of a nearby pizzeria for periodic updates. When the rains finally stopped, it had suffered one minor leak.

It was a hard five days. As Hall watched his cameras, he said, “we’re doing as well as we can.” He planned to open at least two of the stores Wednesday.

Lindsey Rose King spent five days not knowing whether the inventory for Mostess, her home decor gift box company, was safe. The warehouse where it’s all stored — cloth napkins and tablecloths, bottles of spices and cocktail mixes and other items — is in the Galleria section. The warehouse owners had to evacuate their home and couldn’t monitor the situation.

“It’s nerve-wracking. If that inventory gets wet, that’s my whole business,” King said. But Wednesday morning, the email came: Although the building did get some water, King’s merchandise was safe and dry.

Merin Guthrie worried about the possibility that water had seeped into the old loft building near downtown Houston that houses Kit, her clothing design business. Her studio is on the second floor, but friends in similar buildings said they had water coming in through their windows. Even if her fabric, samples and sewing equipment were dry, there was a threat of mould.

She got into the building Wednesday morning, found that water had indeed gotten in, but that her supplies and equipment were OK.

“You have to cross your fingers and hope for the best,” Guthrie said.

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