Heroes of Hurricane Gustav

Heroes of Hurricane Gustav

Central Fire Chief Bill Porche said many heroes emerged in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in Central.  He had special praise for two local business owners who opened their doors to the public even before the storm had passed. Both businesses provided vital services in great demand.  “David’s Tiger Express and Central Drug Store opened Tuesday morning, and they were a tremendous blessing to this community,” Porche said.

Claud Derbes of Central Drug Store was up and running, dispensing lifesaving medicines long before the chain drug stores got their act together a couple of days later. When gasoline was almost impossible to find, Tiger Express, located at the corner of Hooper and Joor roads, was serving customers who lined up for nearly one mile on Hooper Road Tuesday morning. In many ways, Tiger Express was a model of what every business should be like in a disaster: They recognized that a hurricane was coming, they had a plan for dealing with it, and they executed their plan quite well.

David’s served well over 1,000 cars a day from Tuesday through Saturday. Owner James David said each driver was allowed to pull up to the pump by himself and pump as much gas as he needed. “We wanted to give people space, make them feel comfortable that there was plenty of gas, and not to panic,” he said.  Likewise, the David’s’ convenience store opened beginning Tuesday morning and did what could be called a “landslide” of business. Besides gasoline, the most popular products were ice, beer, milk, bread, fried chicken and snacks.

Customers praised David’s for staying open and serving the people. One said, “They did what every business should do but very few did.”

The secret to the David’s’ success was planning. James David said he focused on four things:

•“We stocked up before hand.”

•“We told our vendors in advance that we were going to be open. So they knew we would be there waiting for them to resupply us.”

•“We told our employees that we were going to be open, and we actually went and picked them up and brought them to work, so they didn’t have to worry about transportation.”

•“We had our generator ready to go.”

•“Before the storm, we worked with first responders to develop a plan.”

James David said he had arranged in advance to provide fuel to the Central Fire Department, EMS, the Sheriff, FEMA, the Central Public Works Department, and Zoar Baptist Church’s special response team.

The major flaw in their plan was traffic control, but that was solved Tuesday.  James David said he was very grateful to his suppliers, his employees, and his customers. He had special thanks for volunteers who helped through some difficult circumstances — Todd Crafton, Glenn Bergeron, Ben Ross, and Johnny and John Brocato. Some of the vendors who were most reliable were Kleinpeter Dairy, Baton Rouge CocaCola, Baton Rouge Beer Agency, and Flowers Bakery.

David said the Collette family of RAC Oil deserve special praise. They made sure Tiger Express received three truckloads of fuel a day. The Collettes live on Shoe Creek Drive in Central, and they weren’t about to abandon the community.

“It was all so unbelievable,” David said.

At Central Drug Store, owner Claud Derbes arrived early Tuesday morning to find sheriff deputies guarding the building. Sheriff Sid Gautreaux had sent them out to make sure drug users weren’t tempted to break in.

“Nobody asked the Sheriff to send out the deputies — he just knew to do it!”Derbes said.

Like James David, the local pharmacist had a plan and worked it. “We had our generator in place and had alerted our electrician to be ready to connect it to our electrical system. We were back in business by 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.”

Derbes started serving customers by himself for medicine they forgot to order in advance.  Many were not customers of his pharmacy but Central Drugs helped them all. One unexpected group of customers was medical evacuees.

Central Mayor Mac Watts personally took it on himself to see that they had their medicines. “He even served as my delivery man,” Derbes laughed. At one point, narcotics officers were screening incoming calls. “If a drug addict called and asked for something suspicious, the officer just said, ‘Sorry, but we’re out of that.’”

By Wednesday afternoon, employes had returned, and the temperatures were in the 90’s. The pharmacy had power for refrigeration, lights, and phone but not for air conditioning. “It was hot!” Derbes said.

On Thursday, Central Drugs got power, and things started returning to normal. That day, the drug store chains reopened.

For businesses that intend to serve their customers during tough times, Derbes said, “Have a disaster plan, starting with communications. Stock up before the storm hits, and let your vendors know you’ll be open. You can do it, if you really want to serve people!”

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