PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 13, 2013

Bridge City businessman weathers storm aftermath

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

BRIDGE CITY — Jimmy Scales wasn’t worried.

For 60 years, Scales, along with his father and six of his seven siblings, has lived in Bridge City, a place where hurricanes always pose an imminent threat — and in the event of one making its way to the Gulf Coast, wind damage is the primary irritant. So in September 2008, when Scales and “two thirds” of his family holed up at a hotel in Georgetown to escape a hurricane called Ike, his thoughts never turned to the possibility of flooding.

“You always think, ‘Oh man, the wind is terrible,’” Scales said. “But I said, ‘We’ve been living in Daddy’s house since ‘53, and we’ve never even had water in the yard.’ We’ve never had a water problem.”

Then, Scales saw a picture. It was the Pizza Hut on Texas Avenue, water lapping up at the bottom of the windows.

“I said, ‘We might have a problem,’” Scales recalled.

Another picture hit even closer to home — the Original Cardinal Snow Cone Stand, located on Hebert Drive, directly across from Scales Portable Buildings. Scales’ parents started the local business in 1969. Scales took over in 1983.

The snow cone stand was almost fully submerged.

“I told my husband, ‘I don’t have a job to come back to,’” said Charlotte Liles, who has worked as Scales’ office manager for the past 15 years.

Ike stormed ashore on Galveston Bay in the early hours of Sept. 13, 2008. The Category 2 hurricane made house calls to nearly every residence in Bridge City — of the 3,300 homes, only 16 were left untouched by the storm surge. Scales returned a week later to find four and a half feet of standing water in his office and the two rent houses his family owned across the street, and six  feet of water in his shop.

“We had the frame and the outside,” Scales said. “But the inside was just a shell.”

With most of his office equipment lost to the floodwaters, Scales found himself facing $200,000 in uninsured damages. The company’s windstorm insurance covered the $40,000 in wind damage, but Scales had never gotten flood insurance for his business.

“You can’t afford it with a business,” he said. “You have to make a determination on whether you want to pay, or you want to put some money aside and self-insure.”

Before Ike, Scales, 61, had hoped to retire early. However, after dipping into his retirement to repair his business, that possibility has become slim. And in the event of another storm, reopening would present even more of a challenge.

“We don’t have the funds we had before,” Scales said. “It’s not something you can do in five or 10 years.”

Undaunted, Scales footed the bill to gut all of the buildings, as well as rewire  the entire electrical system and redo all of the plumbing. In the meantime, Scales Portable Buildings set up shop on the front porch of one of Scales’ rent homes across the street. After six weeks of that, Scales and Liles moved into a tiny office beside the shop that Scales had redone.

“We were very blessed to have it, but it was very crowded,” Liles said. “We had to take turns — if he had a customer, I got up and left.”

Finally, in October 2009, Scales’ original office was again operable. Nearly four years later, Bridge City is barely recognizable from the calamitous state in which Ike left it. All ditches and sewer systems have been redone, as have 85 percent of the roads.

“In one way, Ike did a tremendous service to the city of Bridge City,” Scales said. “The mayor did an outstanding job.”

And Scales Portable Buildings is still in full force. The threat of another storm always looms overhead, but like most of his fellow Bridge City residents, Scales has defiantly stayed put.

“There was no thought about not rebuilding,” he said. “It's not a tiny place, but it's a small enough place where you pretty much know everybody. You live in a place all your life, you call it home.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA