Galveston dealer shocked by hurricane Ike's fury

Many Houston-area dealerships have reopened since Hurricane Ike crashed ashore nearly a week ago. But cleanup hasn't even started for Taylor Daniell, general manager of Sand Dollar Automotive, which owns all of the new-car dealerships in nearby Galveston.

Galveston, a coastal barrier island of 60,000 residents near Houston, is littered with debris and lacks power and clean water. Officials are asking the 15,000 people remaining to leave.

Daniell visited the dealerships Friday, Sept. 19. None of his buildings sustained much structural damage. But silt covered the showroom floors in all but the Honda store. Water levels had decreased to less than an inch, but not before ruining everything that had been submersed.

“Even though you know what it looks like, it’s a shock to see it and to see what kind of the damage that it’s in,” Daniell said. “Of all the work that’s going to be necessary just to get reopened — the floors, walls, lights, computers, desks, furniture … it just almost might be better off just to bulldoze it and start over.”

But bulldozing is not the plan, Daniell said. In fact, a customer came to one dealership trying to buy a truck Friday.

“He rolled in on a John Deere tractor — said that’s the only form of transportation that he had,” Daniell said.

"I've not been through (a hurricane) before, so I was not ready for it," he said. "It's like losing a loved one. You worry about your people, what you can do, what you can't do. It's just a real emotional roller coaster."

Sand Dollar employees had moved almost all cars inside the stores' service centers and body shop to protect them. But five interiors flooded with 3.5 to 6 feet of water, Daniell said. Only General Motors vehicles and 20 of his 100 Toyota vehicles survived, he said.

Sand Dollar's holdings include Chrysler (Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep), Ford, GM (Chevrolet-Buick-Cadillac-GMC-Pontiac), Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.

Daniell said he did not know the state of all the stores' buildings, although he knew he had lost part of the roof on his Toyota dealership. The GM and Honda stores appear unharmed, he said.

Employees had moved all Hondas to the body shop, where residents found 6 feet of water, along with a dislodged railroad car, a boat and railroad ties, Daniell said.

"They all just arrived with Ike," he said.

Sand Dollar plans to reopen its Galveston stores. But he doesn't expect to be back on the island with power for at least another month. At that time he will open the GM and Honda stores. The others probably won't open for two or three months, he said.

Daniell said he was hoping to get on the island today. Then he will continue dealing with the $100,000 in damage at his home 30 miles inland. All of his employees are safe, but six have 4 to 6 feet of water in their houses. One manager's waterfront Galveston home was destroyed, he said.

In Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, 1.21 million customers, or 54 percent, lacked power this morning. Many dealerships had opened using generator power.

According to R.L. Polk & Co., Houston's 168,888 new-vehicle retail registrations in 2008 represent 2.5 percent of the 6.85 million new vehicles registered this year nationwide.

Reuters contributed to this report

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