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Bouncing Back from Snow Damage Won’t be Easy for Some Carpet Makers

March 26, 1993

CHATSWORTH, Ga. (AP) _ Until the Blizzard of ’93 hit, Thad Hefner oversaw manufacturing at a thriving mill in northwest Georgia’s carpet region. This week, he was watching workers carry out the remanants of his plant, heavily damaged by the snowstorm.

″I’ve seen pictures on the TV where the tornadoes come or bombs hit, but I’ve never seen anything like this,″ Hefner said.

Hefner is one of many trying to bounce back from the mid-March blizzard that stunned Georgia, hitting the northwest corner of the state hardest.

The carpet industry is king here, with about 37,000 people turning out 70 percent of the carpet made in the United States. Industry officials met Wednesday with state and federal emergency representatives but said they still have not put a dollar figure on the damage.

Insurance Commissioner Tim Ryles said Wednesday the blizzard caused about $134 million in insured property damage statewide, much in the carpet industry. He couldn’t estimate uninsured losses.

Larry Engle, deputy state insurance commissioner, said no other single industry in Georgia had as much damage. ″The carpet industry certainly took its far greater than fair share.″

About 30 percent of the state’s carpet plants remain either partly or fully out of commission, said Ron VanGelderen, president of the Carpet and Rug Institute, a trade group.

Hefner’s is one. The walls of his Georgia Carpet Finishers Inc. mill collapsed early on March 13, unable to withstand 70 mph winds and the weight of 5 feet of snow drifts.

Carpet-makers and construction workers are tearing out what’s left of the plant in preparation for a rebuilding that Hefner said could take six months.

Most of the plant now is under open sky. A few storage areas still have a roof, but only because the ceiling is supported there by tall stacks of rolled carpet.

Contractors said a small part of the 180,000-square-foot plant could be operational in a few weeks. Now, Hefner stands among shards of metal roofing, insulation, broken machinery, mud puddles and soaked carpet.

″If we were in the middle of summer, they could work all the time, but we’re in the middle of the rainy season,″ Hefner said.

The industry has rebounded before, VanGelderen said, recalling the energy shortages in the 1970s that threatened to curtail production.

″It cannot be compared to the loss of a crop available only once per year,″ he said of the storm damage. ″Once a mill is fully operational, it is simply a matter of stepping up production to meet consumer demand.″

VanGelderen also said he does not expect the retail price of carpet to rise because of the storm damage.

But Hefner said he worries that by the time his plant is fully operational, many of his customers will have found new suppliers.

″The problem is you lose a lot of customers to other businesses. So it’s like you’ve got to start a new business all over again,″ Hefner said.

″My days are spent moving things from this building to that to make sure the (surviving) goods are in place. I’m trying to make commitments to my customers, trying to do everything I can to keep them satisfied.″

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