David Crawford, manager and vice president, E-Z Rent It, Bowling Green, Ky., remembers hearing storm warnings for his area on the evening of Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, but when he went to bed there was just some light rain and the winds were calm.
“I kept thinking that nothing would happen to us here,” Crawford remembers. At 4 a.m. the next day, Saturday, Dec. 11, the doorbell at his home rang. “Neighbors of ours own a business about four doors from our rental store. Their alarm system had sounded that the business’s doors were open. They drove in through the debris. As they went by the store, they saw the destruction and came back and woke us up and told us about it,” says Crawford, who immediately called the owner, Thomas Loving, and his co-manager and vice president, Ed Torrence.
|Photos courtesy of Jordan Clarke
What Crawford did not realize at that time was that a series of tornadoes, including a Category EF-3 tornado, had ripped through other states and entered western Kentucky, destroying the town of Mayfield and then moving on to Bowling Green, leaving a path of death and destruction.
At daylight, Crawford, Torrence and Loving decided to try to make their way to the store and assess the damage. Getting there was treacherous in itself. “The roads were all closed off where the tornado hit. The main street was cordoned off. We had to take the back streets and drive around the debris and under utility lines that were hanging from broken utility poles. We kind of zig-zagged our way. Normally it would take about 15 or 20 minutes to get to the store. That morning it took us about 40 minutes to get there,” he says.
They couldn’t believe what they saw upon finally reaching the store.
“We were surveying the damage, walking around and saying, ‘What in the world happened here?’ It was indescribable. I had never seen anything like that before. Buildings had collapsed and debris was everywhere — up and down the street. It was like a war zone. Our main store was destroyed, including our shop area. The storage building also was heavily damaged. The fences on our lots — the lot that the main building sits on and two adjacent — were blown down. Flying debris had put scratches and dents on our heavier equipment. The smaller machines where debris landed on top were damaged to the point of needing replacement. We lost about 75 percent of our equipment. In addition, all our computers and electronics in the store were destroyed. Luckily, our IT person had backed up all our information to the cloud, so we didn’t lose our data,” Crawford says.
The tornadoes started on the western side of the city, on the residential side. That is where the 15 deaths occurred.
“Then they followed a line, just missing Western Kentucky University. Then they came up one of the main streets, which we are on, and destroyed many businesses. The business next to ours was rubble. The homes and streets behind us were rubble, too,” he says.
The saving grace was that none of their employees were adversely affected. “We were blessed in that respect,” Crawford says.
Another plus was that ARA Insurance Preferred Agent Jordan Clarke, CSRM, CWCA, vice president, Charles M. Moore Insurance Agency in Bowling Green, stopped over that morning to start the claim process.
With all the devastation, E-Z Rent It was out of commission for a week. They decided to create an office area in the back room of the damaged storage building while they waited for a contractor to work on that structure.
“We were trying to clean up the lots and the storage building, making room for us to work in the back room of that building. We were without utilities other than a generator, and by Wednesday after the storm we were able to transfer all the business calls to our cellphones,” Crawford says.
They began the arduous task of contacting their customers who had equipment out on rent. “Some didn’t even know our building had been destroyed,” he says.
Even with limited amount of equipment, they forged on. “We went back to the old way of doing business. We were doing handwritten rental contracts and invoices. Our IT person came here to my house and set up a computer system at my home. The guys would handwrite the tickets and bring them to me, and I would type them into the computer. We were doing it old school,” he says, noting that they had to outsource a lot of their service to manufacturers and other rental operations.
Once the contractor was available, the storage building was refurbished with a new roof, doors, windows and siding. “We have a small office area, a customer counter and some equipment. Once we were able to re-establish our utilities and get our internet and electricity back, we were able to put new computers in there and have a somewhat more normal operation, including doing minimal service on our premises,” Crawford says.
They have rented storage units for some of the equipment and ordered other pieces, “but it will be three or four months or longer to get equipment with the supply chain issues. We also need to get new fencing for the lots to make them secure once we have the new equipment,” he says.
|Rebuilding photos courtesy of E-Z Rent It
The goal is to start rebuilding the main facility later this summer.
Even with all the destruction, Crawford has much to be grateful for. “I feel like we have good insurance coverage, thanks to Jordan Clarke and ARA Insurance. You never want to have to use it, but when you need it, make sure your insurance coverage is up to date and adequate. We have replacement cost and business interruption coverage. I think we will be adequate. I would suggest to everyone to re-evaluate their coverages with the costs of construction and building materials skyrocketing,” he says.
Crawford also is glad he has kept good records of his equipment. “We recently sent our inventory to ARA Insurance for a renewal quote. We had good records and photos of our operation, but probably not enough photos. You can’t have too much. We will do a better job of that now,” he says.
One step that Crawford admits he failed to take was to develop a disaster preparedness plan for the operation. “We will definitely do that now. We should have had a plan that outlines here’s what we do in case of a natural disaster. We never had a written plan that we trained on because we never thought it would happen to us. Unfortunately, these things happen. We all should bear that in mind. I know I will from now on,” he says.