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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Receptionist Renee Mojet assembles programs Tuesday at Fellowship Missionary Church. Saturday’s storm left the church without power Sunday morning.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette From left: Portrait of Fellowship's Becky Baker, Wayne Feay, and Christine Wirts at Fellowship Missionary Church, 2536 E. Tillman Rd. Fort Wayne, IN on Tuesday. The church had no electricity on Sunday and had to cancel all three of its services that day.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 2:12 am

High wind carries high cost

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

While most of Fort Wayne slept, the Rev. Dave DeSelm wrestled with a difficult decision.

Fellowship Missionary Church lost power during the severe storm that struck Fort Wayne on Saturday. But there was a chance it would be restored to the building at 2536 E. Tillman Road before three scheduled services Sunday morning.

Canceling worship typically means tens of thousands of dollars in lost donations, so the senior pastor doesn’t make the decision lightly.

With no reassurance by 3:45 a.m. that electricity would be back on in time, DeSelm decided to cancel worship services.

Power outages across Fort Wayne affected some retailers, homeowners and, yes, churchgoers Saturday and Sunday. But for all the economic activity that was interrupted, other financial transactions were created, said Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW.

Cleaning up the mess requires the services of tree companies, roofers, drywall installers and others. Cutter knows – part of a tree split off and fell on her home Saturday.

"I would expect that those contractors are very busy right now," Cutter said Tuesday.

Justin Harkelroad, a local Allstate agent, received about 30 claims on Monday. Most involved water in basements and trees falling on houses.

"A lot of wind damage," he added. "Shingles, (above-ground) pools being blown over."

Tuesday afternoon was too soon to put a dollar estimate on the damage, which was assessed by members of Allstate’s disaster team, who arrived Sunday evening. State Farm also sent in a team of claims adjusters from across the country, agent Andy Yergler said.

In a video conference call Monday, agents were shown an Indiana map that highlighted storm-damaged areas.

"It was amazing to me how concentrated the damage was on Fort Wayne," he said.

Yergler heard from 10 policyholders Monday. Because he’s a newer agent, that rate compares with an established agent receiving about 50 claims calls, he said.

"Sump pumps couldn’t keep up," he said.

As some residents spent Saturday dealing with damage, others found their plans derailed by electrical outages in the Coldwater Road-Coliseum Boulevard area, where traffic signals were out. Parking lots were empty at Wal-Mart, Red Lobster, Jo-Ann Plaza and parts of Northcrest Plaza.

Wal-Mart spokesman Aaron Mullins said the retail giant doesn’t share sales information, but he confirmed that the Coldwater store was closed from 8:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. The Southtown Crossing store, which is not open 24 hours, closed at 8:15 a.m. Saturday and reopened at 6 a.m. Sunday.

Meijer spokesman Frank J. Guglielmi also declined to share lost sales estimates for the Illinois Road store, where power was out for several hours, but some sales continued.

"Our standard protocol is we lock down the coolers/freezers and maintain/monitor temperatures, while the generators keep basic power on for lighting, safety and registers," Guglielmi wrote in an email. "Obviously, it doesn’t affect the general merchandise or nonperishable grocery."

Cutter said thwarted shoppers likely rescheduled store visits, buying most items a day or two later than originally planned. The real loss, she said, would be to entertainment providers and restaurants. People don’t go out to eat twice on Sunday to make up for missing a meal out on Saturday.

Peter Rugsaken, owner and chef of Baan Thai in Jo-Ann Plaza, said his restaurant was closed all day Saturday after losing power about 9 a.m. That’s about $2,500 in lost income, he said.

"You can’t make up for that," Rugsaken said. "Saturday is usually the busiest day of the week."

Lost inventory is another issue. He didn’t lose much because he quickly put protein in the freezer and iced down some fresh vegetables. But some pre-cut vegetables and noodles had to be thrown out.

Some national restaurants weren’t as open about the effects. Erica Ettori, Red Lobster’s spokeswoman, said the privately owned company doesn’t reveal sales numbers.

As Cutter noted, however, money is still being spent on damage-related services. A bonus, she said, is that money paid to local contractors stays in the community.

Fox & Fox expects to be making storm-related repairs for weeks to come. Rhonda Woodruff, service writer for the auto body shop, said the shop had received 20 to 30 more jobs than usual as of Tuesday afternoon. But experience tells her that’s just the beginning.

"As they clear the roads (of fallen trees), we’ll probably get more," she said, adding that other car owners have to wait for insurance company adjusters to sign off on repairs before they can bring their cars in.

Then, water-damaged cars will roll into the shop in three waves, she said.

The first to arrive will be the cars that drove into high water, causing the engines to quit immediately. That will be followed a couple of weeks later by the cars that made it through standing water but end up with electrical problems after wet wires corrode and short out.

A few weeks after that, the third wave will kick off when mildew forms under carpeting and inside ventilation systems that weren’t dried properly, Woodruff said.

They aren’t the only local business flooded with work.

Callers couldn’t leave a message Tuesday afternoon for 2 Guys Tree Service. The company’s voice mail was full. But the firm does accept requests for estimates from people who fill out an online form.

Mudrack Tree Service Inc., a rival company, probably received 150 calls related to storm damage by midafternoon Tuesday, office manager Cheryl Mudrack said.

The firm’s 12 hands-on employees are "extra busy," she said, with non-emergency jobs booked out at least a couple of weeks.

Back at Fellowship Missionary Church, the staff met attendees pulling into the parking lot Sunday morning with apologies and cinnamon rolls.

Worshipers know to check for cancellation announcements after heavy snow, Pastor DeSelm said, but most of the church’s 2,500 members had no warning that the church had lost electricity.

Despite their disappointment, something wonderful happened.

"We had car after car after car (of attendees) that said, ‘Here’s my offering I would have given,’ " he said.

Even so, the church probably lost more than $20,000 when all was accounted for, DeSelm said. That’s from an annual budget of about $2.3 million.

"I’d be less than honest if I said we’ll make it all up next week," he added, calling the loss significant. "You swallow hard and say, ‘Well, Lord, I did the best I could.’ "

Still, DeSelm has faith that God will provide in the long run. In the short term, the congregation can dip into its $300,000 contingency fund so it won’t have to lay off staffers or reduce support to overseas missionaries, he said.

The emergency fund protects the church in case the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems need to be repaired or the roof needs to be replaced.

Church leaders have struggled with how much money to set aside for contingencies because those dollars are out of circulation rather than being spent to do God’s work, DeSelm said.

"We’ve tried to recognize where’s faith," he said, "and where’s wisdom."

sslater@jg.net