Philadelphia — Days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where The Yates Companies had helped build glistening casinos and upscale hotels along the beachfront, William Yates had crews on the ground hauling away tons of debris.
“There were slot machines from casinos, refrigerators, cars in places cars shouldn’t be, all sort of collapsed wood structures you’re not even sure where they came from, lots of signage, a lot of mass you couldn’t even tell where it originated,” said Yates, president of Philadelphia-based W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company.
Yates was one of three contractors hired to collect, haul and sort debris in Biloxi. The company was faced with two major challenges: devising a plan that made sense, and figuring out how to get the debris from point A to point B.
“We have to make four passes down every street in our area … and visually sort with supervision,” said Yates. “Then we have to deal with staging debris at an intermediate location and wait until traffic is not so bad … to take it to approved landfills.”
Yates has 150 people, 100 trucks and 50 pieces of support equipment on the debris removal contract alone. Their portion of the debris removal efforts in Biloxi will probably exceed one million cubic yards. The company expected to be completed with its second pass by October 15. Yates also has several hundred people in the area working on many different projects including schools, the airport, office buildings, casinos and other public and private facilities.
“There’s a need for our services now, and we have all sorts of mixed feelings because we’ve lost one employee who was identified, and possibly another,” said Yates. “Over 60 employees have substantially lost their homes. It’s very upsetting from that standpoint, but we feel a responsibility to help build back our community and do it as quickly as reasonably possible and do it in a way that creates a bigger, better Biloxi for the future of our grandkids.”
Yates’ greatest operational issue right now is housing for displaced employees. “We also expect that there will be significant material and personnel shortages,” said Yates.
“We are bringing in staff from our Philadelphia, Jackson, Memphis and Dallas offices to help with the personnel issue and the material shortages will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
With the land-based casino issue unresolved until the special session ended October 7, post-recovery planning and reconstruction efforts were slower than usual.
“Because of that, schedules and budgets are still being addressed on these projects,” said Yates. “At this time, many issues both design and construction related have to be resolved before any true schedules can be published.”
Yates handled post-Hurricane Ivan rebuilding projects in Florida and Alabama last year, “but when I got to the Coast the following day after Katrina hit, I was shocked,” said Yates.
“There was so much destruction and devastation everywhere and the area even felt deserted. It was much worse than I had imagined, especially in certain areas like East Biloxi. The whole experience was overwhelming.”
At the company’s office on Main Street in Biloxi, the entire first floor was demolished. Within three days, Yates had the second and third floors back up and running using generators, temporary air condition and e-mail via satellite.
“Since that time, things seem to get better each day,” he said. “I am continually encouraged and re-energized by the focus and commitment of the people I work with as part of the Yates team.”
Yates Construction was founded in 1963 in Philadelphia and has grown steadily from a small, local general contractor to a national player with annual revenues topping $1.5 billion. From its 20 offices in seven states, the company provides a broad range of construction services in several different industry sectors including commercial, industrial, education, healthcare, hospitality, multi-family residential and retail. Engineering News Record ranks Yates No. 27 among the nation’s largest contractors and No. 85 worldwide.
Outside Mississippi, Yates’ high-profile projects include:
• Building Phase II of the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, an approximate $500-million expansion;
• Starting an industrial project in the Virgin Islands this month;
• Building an embassy overseas for the U.S. State Department;
• Building a prison in Lubbock, Texas, and the FBI building in Houston, Texas; and
• Starting two 52-story towers in downtown Miami.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.