WEST WHITELAND >> Belfor Property Restoration’s operation in the Exton area is playing a major role in the company’s response to the triple whammy hurricane punch of Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Dozens of workers from Chester County have been deployed to help with the recovery efforts of its clients, said Rusty Amarante, director of operations.

The company’s Mobile Command Center stationed in Exton was mobilized to Texas for response to flood-ravaged Houston after Harvey began drenching the nation’s fourth-largest city on Aug. 25.

Exton is a unique facility for Belfor because it houses many division leaders of the National Catastrophe Response Team, company officials explained. For example, the national director of operations, national director of safety, national catastrophe team leader, national logistics coordinator, national director of billing, national director of communications and national sales director are located there.

“Of these, many department heads plus additional members of their teams located throughout the country were mobilized to assist and support those existing segments in the local offices,” said Rusty Amarante, Belfor’s director of operations and a Certified Restorer, or CR.

Members of the Exton production team also were mobilized in National Water Extraction Vehicles to assist the efforts, the company said. “Numbers fluctuate on a daily basis but it’s safe to say we have dozens of folks from the Exton team in Texas or Florida (or the Caribbean) on any given day,” Amarante said. “We have in excess of 1,000 people mobilized and responding to each ‘cat.’”

The latest “cat” is taking Belfor workers to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas to help with the cleanup follow Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million American citizens remain almost entirely without electrical power. The problem is that roughly 80 percent of transmission lines, which take power from the plants to distribution centers, are down. Nearly all the local power lines that run to residences and businesses have likely also been destroyed.

“There’s varying levels of destruction in all of the areas that were hit,” spokeswoman Alexandra Gort said Monday. “With the islands, you have the added problems with logistics since you can’t drive there. You work through it.”

In comparing the first two hurricanes, Amarante said they pose different challenges.

With Harvey, it was more of a water event, he said. Houston is in a “bowl” area so it collected water more rapidly than the water could recede so it flooded.

“Of course, there are other considerations – safety and damage-wise – such as being aware of downed power lines, contaminants in the water,” the director of operations added. “Of course, standing water and moisture causes mold and mildew growth, which is another big factor we see on job sites.

“With Irma, we of course had the water element but due to the accompanying winds, the high rises and buildings that cannot withstand the force ultimately get damaged, and then in addition to the rain coming in, there’s uncontrollable damage,” Amarante noted. “Roofs have been completely detached from buildings, yes, there’s debris ... there is still so much devastation.”

Another big difference in the aftermath of the two storms: The wind damage caused by Irma is typically covered by homeowners’ policies while the flood damage in Texas is typically not covered unless the policyholder has flood insurance.

“It’s hard to say one thing is worse than another because it’s all unfortunate,” Amarante said.

In addition to the hurricanes, Belfor has been responding to the western wildfires and flooding in Canada. The company has clients in every sector – from health care systems, education, lodging and hospitality, commercial and industrial, and government. In addition, it performs work through insurance companies that need it done to settle claims.

Belfor has nine full-time operational offices in Texas and six in Florida. The outside crews are assigned to the catastrophes in shifts of 30 to 90 days.

“All-in, we expect the restoration efforts in Texas should take up to a year and a half, and in Florida we expect to be working on projects for up to a year,” Amarante said. “Additionally, we’ve mobilized manpower, equipment and resources for clients in the Caribbean.”

– To contact Business Writer Brian McCullough, call 610-235-2655 or send an email to bmccullough@21st-centurymedia.com.

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