Picking up the pieces

Published 1:01 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

Randy Walker of G.W. Walker & Sons on Washington’s Main Street, points to the damaged ceiling of his business Wednesday. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Randy Walker is upbeat.

The downtown-Washington businessman’s building had been condemned after sustaining damage that was perhaps unprecedented in its century-long history.

Like the now-unroofed building that housed Main Street’s Little Shoppes of Washington, Walker’s store was closed Wednesday.

But, this week, Walker was laying plans to come back, and looking forward to getting his business up and running, maybe as soon as next week.

He can bring the building back up to code, and he can keep his business going in the face of hardships brought by Irene.

“You’ve got to look at everything as an opportunity,” he said. “Yeah, I had water crash through three floors, but you’ve got to look at it like an opportunity. And somebody’s got to fix that back, somebody’s going to get paid to fix that back. From that, somebody’s going to be paying taxes, and it trickles down, no pun intended.”

On Saturday, Irene’s intense winds lifted the roof off Walker’s store on West Main Street.

“It came up and came unattached from the wood subroof, and it buckled,” Walker said Wednesday.

Inches of rainwater collected on the third floor of the G.W. Walker & Sons building. The water leaked to the ground floor, where it collapsed nearly every ceiling tile and light fixture and ruined Walker’s flooring samples.

The third floor was still exposed to sunlight Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s a hunk of (the roof) that’s rolled up that really needs to be cut off, and the rest of it needs to be bolted down in some sort of preparation for another storm,” Walker said.

As Walker gave a tour of the building, insurance adjustors arrived.

With the recovery under way, Walker was confident Washington Electric Utilities would give part of his building temporary power, allowing his staff to operate in the back of the shop, where the ceiling didn’t collapse.

“So, we won’t miss a beat,” he said. “We can be back as early as next week in some form. The key is getting some power.”

Also on the plus side, the ceiling collapse revealed an older, pressed-tin ceiling that Walker is thinking about having restored.

In the meantime, he’s working with the City of Washington to get his place back in order.

“Let me say too the city’s just been wonderful so far,” he said. “They’re waiving their permitting fees. Some of the permits can be done over the phone.”

The Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce sent email blasts to its members, advising them how to use city services if their stores sustained damage.

Best of all, Walker anticipates getting more work in the next few months as people start repairing homes where flooring was affected by Irene.

For others, the recovery will take more time.

Preliminary damage assessments hadn’t been unveiled as of Wednesday, but there were signs some of the hardest-hit Beaufort County residents were just getting their hands around the problems wrought by Irene.

Trees went down or even through multiple houses, and some waterfront homes look to be total losses. Siding has been blown off homes and businesses; tarps still cover an uncounted number or roofs.

Thousands of residents still had no power Wednesday.

Roy and Treasure Edwards consider themselves fortunate.

The husband and wife live on Forte Shores Road, off Whichard’s Beach Road near Chocowinity.

The Edwards’ community still didn’t have power Tuesday afternoon, and the sound of a generator running filled the air.

Also filling the air were the sounds of hammering and the papery crunch of leaves and limbs being raked into neat piles.

Treasure Edwards was busy sweeping out her ground-floor garage, which was flooded by rolling waves on Saturday.

The Edwards’ waterfront home lost its pier, some shingles, a piece of a tin roof, a porch screen and a garage door.

Before the storm, the twosome tied a pump house to a post underneath the elevated porch.

“Well, it blew away anyway, but we saved the swings and picnic table,” she said.

Luckily, no one on Forte Shores lost his or her life or was injured, the couple conveyed.

Though Treasure Edwards thought doors might start blowing open when Irene’s winds kicked up, she reported that she and her husband found serenity when the weather did its worst.

“You know what? It wasn’t that frightening for me,” she said. “And I’m sure that for some people it would have been terrifying.”

The rips and tears plopped down as Irene’s calling card can be mended.

“It’ll be right expensive to fix, of course,” Treasure Edwards acknowledged.

But the recovery goes on, albeit in increments.