Jewelers Assess ‘Truly Bad’ Aftermath of Ike

Jewelers from Texas’ Gulf Coast to rivers of Ohio are just now beginning to assess the full damage of Hurricane Ike, which cut a swatch of devastation through Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Midwest on Sept. 13. Fortunately, there are no reported casualties or serious injuries among jewelers or their families.

Even so, an official of Jewelers Mutual Insurance Company called the situation “bad, truly bad,” while Jewelers of America, in an online statement, said “damage [to jewelers’ homes and retail locations] ranges from minimal electrical outages to severe destruction,” most in southeast Texas. The executive director of the Texas Jewelers Association said up to 100 stores in the Galveston region “got slammed” and that it “might be weeks” before full contact is restored, due to power outages and at press time, barring of Galveston area residents and businesspeople from returning.

Insurance costs. Initial insurance industry estimates put overall damage costs in the region (primarily southeast Texas, and parts of Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky which saw severe winds and flooding) at $8 billion to $12 billion (Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost $100 billion). 

Jewelers Mutual adjusters had already, by Sept. 20, visited scores of policyholders in Texas (in addition to 125 from Hurricane Gustav, earlier). However, Jeff Mills, Jewelers Mutual Insurance vice president of commercial lines operations, said it’s too early to put a figure on payouts, in part because Galveston residents and business owners (and adjusters) were still banned from re-entering and assessing their losses.

However, “we’re wiring money to some policyholders as an advance payment to their covered losses,” he said. (Jewelers Mutual is also extending the time period to renew policies and pay premiums, and providing coverage at no added premium for commercial policyholders who move merchandise from their businesses to more secure locations.) Jewelers Mutual’s claims staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 800-558-6411, he said.

“It’s bad, truly bad there–not as bad as Katrina, which was catastrophic because the levees broke, flooding New Orleans—but Galveston is devastated,” says Mills, who just returned from the Houston/ Galveston region, where he met with policyholders and JM people in the field, and got a first-hand view of the destruction and recovery efforts.

“There’s a lot of power outage and sign damage in the Houston area, but not as much structural damage,” he said. “Many jewelry stores are in malls or plazas that have damage and are closed to business now. As we moved closer to the coast, we saw much more structural damage to buildings.” Stores in the Galveston region may be “out of business for weeks or even months.”

The ‘red zone.’ About 100 member stores of the Texas Jewelers Association (650 members total) were “in the ‘red zone’ [or east side] of the hurricane’s path when it came on land—that’s the most devastating part –and got slammed,” says Joe McCullough, TJA executive director. The red zone covered Galveston, Texas City, and Baytown, west to Bay City, north through parts of Houston and nearby areas of Friendswood and Humble, and east to Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur, near the Texas coast.

“In Houston, electricity was only re-established this past weekend [10 days after the hurricane came through] while many other areas’ [electricity] are still down. Many of jewelers’ stores on the west side [of the hurricane] kept their electricity after Hurricane Ike passed over the city,” noted McCullough, “but their homes elsewhere were racked by high winds, debris and no electricity. Fortunately, flood waters in the Houston bayous were, for the most part, self-contained.

As for Galveston and the surrounding towns, “there still is basically no power, no e-mails, no phones, no communication, no estimates, and no feedback. People are still barred from going onto Galveston Island yet,” said McCullough. “We may not have feedback [from people there] for weeks. We’ve asked our members [in the Houston area and elsewhere] to “support the Red Cross and other organizations on the front lines during this stressful recovery event, and help with those refugees from Galveston and elsewhere who lost everything and are still in Austin, Tex., and San Antonio [both west of Houston].

Zale & Sterling. It wasn’t only independent jewelers who were affected. Top national jewelry retailers, like Sterling Jewelers, Inc. and Zale Corp., were, too.

“The safety and well-being of our team members is of utmost importance and we’re pleased all our team members are safe,” said David A. Bouffard, vice president, public relations, for Sterling Jewelers Inc., whose stores include the national chains Kay Jewelers and Jared superstores.

“More than four dozen stores were initially impacted by the hurricane–mainly those in malls from Texas to Ohio—but five days after the hurricane, less than a dozen were still closed. Many in southeast Texas were directly affected by the hurricane, while others elsewhere, such as in Ohio, were affected by winds that brought down power lines, closing malls due to lack of power,” said Bouffard. He noted Sterling has “a field emergency protocol for events like hurricanes. Most of our stores are in malls, so our teams work with the mall developers and follow police and state government directions.”
 
Zale Corp., whose brands include Zales Jewelers, Gordon’s Jewelers, and Piercing Pagoda, had “a number of stores closed–primarily Zales and Gordon’s in the Galveston/Houston area,” said David Sternblitz, Zale Corp. vice president and treasurer. Zale was “still assessing the extent of any damage” five days after Ike passed through, he told JCK. “We did our best to temporarily place our jewelry consultants in other stores, while we work to re-open locations impacted by the hurricane.”

After the recovery effort and media coverage, noted TJA’s Joe McCullough, “everyone else will be getting back to their normal lives. But, for those stores and others who got slammed, it doesn’t end. They’ll be rebuilding and dealing with this for years.” 

How To Help
Here are some ways to assist those in the area devastated by Hurricane Ike.
Contact Jewelers of America. The JA Recovery Network Outreach helps jewelers in need connect with their peers who can provide support, advice or supplies. Contact Jewelers of America at info@jewelers.org about items you can donate or ways you can help.
You can also contact or donate to the hurricane relief efforts of the American Red Cross (800-733-276), www.redcross.org; the Salvation Army (800-SAL-ARMY), www.salvationarmyusa.org, or Catholic Charities USA (800-919-9338), www.CatholicCharitiesUSA.org.