Yusuf Hasan leaned against his truck and wrung the sweat out of a red handkerchief on Monday during a break from nailing shingles into a damaged 7th Ward house.
Other men his age might take a day off after a week of working under the sun. Not Hasan.
“I come from Tunica, Mississippi. And in Tunica, Mississippi, you pick cotton all day, no matter what,” said Hasan, 78. “I don’t get tired.”
Labor Day was no holiday at all for thousands of roofers and contractors who have swung into action in the week after Hurricane Ida to patch roofs, gut flooded houses and make other emergency repairs.
Demand is through the roof — thanks to a storm that left thousands of them damaged. Skilled tradesmen like Hasan said they’re getting non-stop phone calls, and seemingly anyone who’s ever swung a hammer is being pressed into work. Hard-hit parishes like St. John the Baptist Parish are being overrun by trucks with out-of-state license plates.
There’s no official count of how many structures were damaged by Ida, which barreled ashore at Port Fourchon with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. But already, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved 13 parishes for its Operation Blue Roof program, which aims to make homes habitable as soon as possible.
Many homeowners aren’t waiting on the government. The rainstorm that pummeled a broad area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans on Monday underscored the daily danger of further rain and mold damage.
Hasan said his small company, Pyramid Roofing, has received so many calls that he doesn’t bother answering the phone. Instead, he’s prioritizing longtime customers.
“I’m just taking care of people who’ve taken care of me,” he said.
Contractor Isaac Kozell said the requests for help have been “non-stop.” Normally, he would take Labor Day off, he said, “but I feel like I don’t have a choice right now. It’s sunup to sundown.”
If you need financial or physical assistance following Hurricane Ida, here’s a list of resources designed to offer help for people and busines…
With established professionals in scarce supply, an impromptu army of tradespeople have swung into action.
Celestino Bustos specializes in making furniture and cabinets from salvaged wood, but during the past few days he’s been helping others in his father’s Milneburg neighborhood patch fences and roofs.
“That’s normally our main thing, furniture, but nobody needs that,” Bustos said as he picked up supplies at the Lowe’s in St. Roch. “I’m doing the best I can for my neighbors.”
Meanwhile, many property owners have begun gutting their own houses, having learned that skill in prior disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac and the 2016 floods in the Baton Rouge area.
St. John the Baptist Parish announced Monday that volunteers with the Helping Hands organization will be providing free clean-up, home gutting and yard-cleaning this weekend. Residents may call (844) 965-1386 for help.
That parish has seen an influx of contractors and roofers from other states. State officials are warning residents against the danger of contractor fraud.
“I anticipate that we’re going to get clobbered,” said Brad Hassert, compliance director for the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. “But as of right now, I think everyone’s still in shock and recovery mode.”
Hassert recommended that property owners verify contractors’ licenses at his agency’s website, lacontractor.org, and call insurance companies to ensure the contractor’s insurance is up to date.
Louisiana generally requires a license for any residential project valued at over $7,500, including materials and labor, which would not include most residential tarping work.
Hassert said that, as a general rule, property owners should ask for a contract, avoid paying up front or in cash, get a receipt, and take a photograph of a contractor’s license plate in case anything does go wrong.
Many contractors, roofers and laborers are doing hard work under harsh conditions, as the busy parking lot at Lowe’s on Labor Day attested.
Kozell was loading two-by-fours into the back of his 1985 GMC Sierra for an emergency repair in Gretna. The truck doesn’t have working AC — and neither did his home in Treme for the first few days after the storm. That meant there was no respite following his days spent exposed to the sun.
“The hardest part was being out all day, and then not having access to ice, no AC,” Kozell said.
Kozell spent the first day after the storm patching holes in his own roof, and he’s been helping clients ever since. A day off is a distant mirage for workers like him and Hasan, who predict they’ll be patching roofs for weeks to come. Hasan said the rainstorm hitting New Orleans on Monday would only give him a brief pause.
“Well, good,” Hasan said. “That means it’s going to be cool.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has clarified their stance on providing grants to home renters, and there are several options for you if you don’t own your home.