One year ago, as soon as Hurricane Sandy had finished beating the Atlantic coast and rolled back out to sea, car dealers across the New York-New Jersey region rushed in to take stock of the damage.
Michael Morais, executive vice president of the multipoint Open Road Auto Group of New Jersey, found his inventory of 200 imported vehicles -- all stored out of harm's way in Brooklyn, he thought -- sitting in 4 feet of water.
"You never really calculate the long-term impact of something like this," said Morais, who tallied $8 million in vehicle losses and damage to Open Road's store on New York's Staten Island.
But there was a bright side. "Ten days after the storm, we had a check in hand from our insurer for every penny we lost. And that was amazing."
Other dealers were less fortunate. Several remain tied up in disputes with insurance companies. One key lesson: Storm damage coverage and flood damage coverage are different issues when it comes to insurance policies, and the lack of flood coverage often comes as startling news after a catastrophic storm.
Dealers are taking practical steps to protect their inventory -- for example, moving car-storage lots to higher ground -- and reviewing their insurance coverage. But in the post-Sandy world, insurers are charging higher fees and want to see detailed disaster plans by the businesses they insure.
In late October 2012, Sandy wreaked $65 billion in property damage and flooding from South Florida to Maine to Lake Huron. More than 230,000 automobiles were ruined, and for months the flow of business-as-usual was derailed.
There is no hope of avoiding natural disasters. A hurricane in Louisiana, a tornado in Alabama, a freak blizzard in South Dakota -- no business planning can stop the wind.
But after Sandy's widespread destruction, auto dealers and insurers say there are lessons to be learned.
"We're looking a lot harder at our storage yards now," said Brian Benstock, general manager of New York City's Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura, among the nation's biggest retailers of Hondas and Acuras. "What we used to consider acceptable is no longer acceptable. Where is it located? What is the elevation? Are there big trees around it? What sort of security fencing does it have?"
Like a number of other New York-area dealers, Paragon, in Queens, was keeping its inventory of 1,300 vehicles at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. It is an empty stretch of New York waterfront real estate that the U.S. Navy found secure enough from the tides for 150 years of warship building. But as Sandy withdrew last year, Benstock found that Paragon had lost 938 cars and sustained damages of more than $20 million.
He is still trying to get reimbursed by the insurance company.
Benstock said he is prohibited from discussing the details of the year-old insurance issue, saying only, "We're hoping for a good outcome."