Auto recyclers throughout the world are always facing unexpected challenges and having to adjust and overcome them to continue being operational. Recently, Car Parts & Recycling in Pepinster, Belgium, experienced flooding in its yard. Managing Director Joseph Higny, provides us with an inspirational story about their experience along with a cautious message.
Joseph, can you provide a little background about the company and the size of the operation before the flood happened?
Car Parts and Recycling project was initiated in November 2020 as a synergistic activity to Verviers Dépannage (Towing car company), my other company on that site, with registration for environmental and building permission at Walloon Region, investment phase in April & May 2021, and was granted FEBELAUTO certification mid-June 2021 with all other authorities permits. The ambition was to reach some 750 ELV treated per annum equipped with state-of-the-art equipment from INDRA. Operations started on 15th June ’21.
When and how did the flood occur, and what was the damage?
As all the Region of Verviers and its surroundings in the valley of the Vesdre river, we got flooded on 14th July 2021, with the level of water reaching almost two meters in the workshops. It flowed hard and fast through our premises, wiping out all the material, equipment, and stock. Fortunately, no one was injured, neither at work nor at home.
It happened when the authorities had no other choice than to release water from major dams located upstream after days of heavy rain in the region.
Our building was hit heavily, all cars which included rental, company-owned, customer’s ones, and vehicles in custody were irremediably damaged. All material was destroyed, and all stock was ruined. We were out of electrical power for weeks.
Like many others, I assume you had the correct insurance and that the damage was paid for through this insurance?
We have insurance of course, but in Belgium, they very often limit the coverage in case of natural catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes. On top of this, brokers and experts had so many cases to deal with that it took a really long time to get them on site. We had to push hard to get them to stay focused to follow up with the insurance company to finally get partially indemnified more than six months later. With one company, they are still nitpicking for more and more detailed information… but I guess this is the name of the game. On the other hand, we can’t complain, at least we were extremely well supported by our bank agent!
So how did you get the site back in action so quickly, and what was the biggest challenge you discovered?
Our first challenge was making sure our people could swiftly get back to operating on-site in safe conditions. This meant securing the zone; cleaning it to avoid an insalubrious environment on the site as pollution was coming from upstream and stinky, sticky mud was all over the place. We received support and help from many people, large groups coming from Flanders, to clean the site with us, including friends and partners. We also had moral support from FEBELAUTO, Walloon Region, and INDRA; all caring and offering their help too.
Secondly, we had to cope with our duty! Requested by the town council, we were day and night towing and securing the hundreds of cars that had been flooded in the vicinity of Verviers, some for more than 10 days.
Finally, we restarted the Car Parts and Recycling activities two months later when we received all the new equipment and material ordered and delivered express by INDRA. We wanted to restart operating by the rule, with no shortcut or potential environmental rule infringement expense with all equipment running and tested.
It seems that you have stared adversity in the face and have made a remarkable recovery. What have you learnt from it, and what advice would you give fellow auto recyclers if faced with a similar situation?
My advice is to build a strong network of partners on which you can count based on mutual trust, get properly insured and read every word of your contract. Finally, and most importantly, consider the prime interest of your people first.
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