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Shortages of supplies and workers will delay rebuilding after Hurricane Ida

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, a man scavenges for copper in a debris pile, Sunday, September 5, 2021, in Montz, Louisiana (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) 
Paul Wiseman and Alex Veiga Associated Press

Joe Sobol, owner of Big Easy Construction in New Orleans, has bad news for homeowners calling about roofs damaged by Hurricane Ida or for an update on renovations scheduled before the storm.

The job will cost a lot more than usual — and take much longer, too.

Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast of the US, then took its destruction to the Northeast — at a time when building contractors were already grappling with severe shortages of workers and depleted supply chains.

The damage inflicted by Ida has magnified those challenges.

The struggle to find enough skilled workers and materials is likely to drive up costs, complicate planning and delay reconstruction for months.

“My expectation,” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at the real estate research firm Zonda, “is that it only gets worse from here.”

Lake Charles, Louisiana, 200 miles west of New Orleans, still hasn’t recovered from the damage left when Hurricane Laura tore through the area a year ago.

The challenges facing construction companies stem from the brutal but brief recession that hit after the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020. The economy rebounded faster and stronger than expected. Businesses of all kinds were caught off-guard by the surge in customer demand.

Workers and supplies were suddenly in short supply. For months now across the economy, businesses have been scrambling to acquire enough supplies, restock their shelves and recall workers they had furloughed during the recession.

Construction companies have been particularly affected. Among building executives Zonda surveyed last month, 93% complained of supply shortages and 74% said they lacked enough workers. And that was before Ida struck.

“Natural disasters do cause a strain on building materials, reconstruction materials and on labour,” Mr Wolf said.

“The difference today is that the entire supply chain has been battered even before Ida’s occurrence. You really have all these things hitting at the exact same time. Frankly, the last thing the supply chain needed was extra strain.”

Mr Sobol has ridden out some of the biggest hurricanes to strike Louisiana, including Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1979, Katrina in 2005 and Ida last week. Last week he received a text from a client who had hired Big Easy for home renovations. The client wanted to know whether the initial cost estimate still stood.

“I said, ‘You can probably add 10%,'” he said.

And now the project will likely take nine months instead of six.

Among workers in short supply include framers, who build, install and maintain foundations, floors and door and window frames; carpenters; electricians; plumbers; and heating and air-conditioning specialists.

To make matters worse, the power is still out in many places and petrol is in short supply.

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