Supply shortage to mar tornado cleanup

Construction boom leaves few materials, workers

May 09, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MOORE, Okla. -- Six days ago the killer tornadoes struck, and for those left homeless, everyday routines are on hold. But as the massive cleanup begins, rebuilding homes and getting back to normal may take longer than they expect.

A strong economy and a construction boom have created a nationwide shortage of building materials and construction crews. Supply cannot meet demand, and that is driving up prices.

Moore's mayor, Glenn Lewis, estimated that rebuilding could take from six months to a year. Almost a quarter of the 15,000 houses in the town were destroyed. Hundreds more were damaged but are habitable, according to local police.

His prediction may be optimistic.

"There is a Sheetrock shortage and brick shortage," said L. O. Harrington, a homebuilder and insurance agent in Moore. "It's frustrating to say the least.

"Builders won't be able to get subcontractors to rebuild homes, because these people can make more money repairing homes than working on new ones. I'm not sure what the bigger problem is," Harrington said, "a lack of materials or workers."

Hap Lowry of Trinity Brick, an Oklahoma City distributor, said the tunnel kilns that produce brick are running at full capacity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. "They can produce only so many bricks a day," he said.

Some tornado victims may purchase new homes that were built on speculation in the greater Oklahoma City area. But that may require moving to another area, which some may be unwilling to do.

Karen Farney, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City mayor's office, said there is concern that a shortage of materials and workers will enable unscrupulous contractors to victimize impatient homeowners.

"That's why we are handing out packets to people at our shelters and command centers," Farney said. "We're telling them to get three estimates and references."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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