Mike Jones, of Mobile Auto Glass in Simmons, prepares to replace a windshield on a 2012 Ford Focus at Piney River Ford in Houston. All but four of the vehicles on the dealership's lot sustained damage from the major hail storm that passed through part of the area on Friday, March 27.

Following the surprise hail storm that dropped huge balls of ice in parts of Texas County on the evening of Friday, March 27, almost every resident of the area (whether long-time or new) was in shock over a weather-related event they had never before experienced.

And the storm’s aftermath resulted in a lengthy recovery period that’s still in progress. Many area businesses were greatly affected by the calamity caused by the heavy, rock-hard projectiles from the sky, not the least of which are insurance companies, glass companies and automotive dealerships and repair shops.

“I’ve never seen hail like that, and I’ll have lived here 58 years in July,” said Rick Dixon, co-owner of Piney River Ford (PRF) in Houston. “I’ve lived through three direct hits by tornadoes, but I don’t think they did as much damage as this hail storm.”

All but three of 49 new vehicles on the lot at PRF were damaged, and the three that were spared were indoors in the showroom.

Three new vehicles were totaled out by Ford Motor Co. insurance adjusters, and several pre-owned vehicles also received blows.

Dixon said the estimated the cost of damage to vehicles was about $400,000.

“Out of all the vehicles we have here, only half a dozen windshields didn’t get broken,” he said. “The building also got hit – it broke the windows out of the garage doors and tore up the roof.”

The windshield of a car on the lot at Piney River Ford in Houston shows the effects of taking several hits from large hail stones during the March 27 storm that passed through part of the area.

The hail damage unexpectedly created a positive situation for prospective PRF customers.

“It’s going to be a really good time to buy a new vehicle for people who aren’t concerned about a few dents or dings,” Dixon said. “They’ll get a lot of money off.”

Not surprisingly, the dealership’s body shop is as busy as ever.

“We’re just asking people to be patient,” Dixon said. “This won’t be a quick process because there are so many.”

“It’s increased business about 100-percent,” said PRF body shop manager Scott Kohl. “It’s keeping us busy. It’s definitely different.”

Dixon said the public’s reaction immediately after the storm was a pleasant surprise.

“We probably had 50 people come up here asking what they could do to help,” he said. “We appreciate that and we’d like to help them back.”

BROKEN GLASS GALORE

Traveling around these days, it’s easy to notice vehicles in many locations with tarps covering the space where their windshields or back windows used to be.

Replacing glass in that many vehicles is a daunting task.

“I’ve been putting in windshields for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of hail damage,” said Mike Jones, of Mobile Auto Glass in Simmons, “but I’ve never seen anything as widespread as this.”

Jones has worked on several vehicles at Piney River Ford and said he’s doing seven or eight windshield replacements per day.

Mike Jones, of Mobile Auto Glass in Simmons, replaces a windshield on a car at Piney River Ford in Houston. 

“Trying to keep up with this is like trying to drink from a fire hose,” he said. “It’ll take months to take care of everything.”

Sam Wetzel, of Ozark Glass & Mirror in Houston, has also been busier than ever replacing windshields.

“It’s pretty much overwhelming,” Wetzel said. “Business was slow because of the coronavirus, and now it’s up more than 250-percent. It’s crazy, but most people seem to be pretty understanding.

“But it makes me wonder if we won’t end up facing a shortage of glass at some point.”

Jones typically works all over Texas County and in several surrounding counties. He said he truly dislikes having a boost in business caused by other peoples’ hardship.

“I stay busy as it is,” he said, “and I take absolutely no pleasure in the circumstances I find myself in profiting from other folks’ disaster. I have been receiving a flood of calls from Seymour to Raymondville, and many of these people don’t have full coverage insurance. This is very sad, as many folks find themselves out of work because of this coronavirus, and the timing of such an event – although never good – is obviously rather pointed right now – pointed as in a pitchfork or knife.” 

HELPING FUND THE RECOVERY

Of course, with all the damage to vehicles, buildings and other possessions, local insurance companies are bearing a much heavier load than usual.

Houston State Farm agent Justin Shelby said that as of the middle of last week, more than 360 new claims had been filed due to the hail.

“And we expect that number to keep rising over the next few days and weeks,” Shelby said. “Locally, we haven’t seen a storm like this in many years.” 

Shelby said State Farm’s National Catastrophe Team was deployed and was in Texas County to assist customers to recover from the historic event. 

“This is very different for us trying to follow social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19,” Shelby said. “We’re trying to find new ways to help service our customers with virtual inspections and drones to inspect damage. Of course, we are still doing physical in person inspections as well.”

During an already abnormal period caused by the coronavirus, the hail simply compounded the disruption in many peoples’ lives.

“Most of our customers have never seen anything like this,” Shelby said. “Everyone just seems to want things to go back to normal as soon as possible. Our catastrophe team is doing everything we can to get our customers vehicles, homes and businesses repaired as soon as possible.”

Shelby recommends care and caution in choosing contractors and repair facilities. 

“There are many companies coming from out of town or even out of state,” he said. “While they may do good work, if they’re not a local company it could be hard to get them to come back and stand behind their work.”

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