“This is heart wrenching, you know?” says Randy Campbell, who with his crew clears debris after disasters. “We just come in and help clean it up and make some money doing it.”
“This is heart wrenching, you know?” says Randy Campbell, who with his crew clears debris after disasters. “We just come in and help clean it up and make some money doing it.” - 
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Communities on the Atlantic Coast continue to deal with the aftermath of two hurricanes that struck in the span of one month. Forty people in North Carolina died as a result of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in September. Many folks in southeastern North Carolina remain displaced from their homes, and some 28,000 homeowners and renters in the state are receiving some kind of assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Almost 1,300 are getting FEMA vouchers to live in hotels. But before many residents can get back into their homes, they need debris to be cleared from their property. That's where someone like Randy Campbell comes in.

Randy Campbell and his crew are busy cleaning up debris in Wilmington, North Carolina. “We do the FEMA storms, the big disasters. We come in and clean up all of the debris and everything.”
Randy Campbell and his crew are busy cleaning up debris in Wilmington, North Carolina. “We do the FEMA storms, the big disasters. We come in and clean up all of the debris and everything.” - 

Campbell owns and operates his own trucking firm based in Haleyville, Alabama. He said if there's a natural disaster in the United States, he'll probably be getting a phone call.

"We do the FEMA storms, the big disasters. We come in and clean up all of the debris and everything," Campbell said while sitting in one of his dump trucks, waiting for his crew to fill it with debris so he could take it to a nearby landfill. There is plenty of work for Campbell and his crew because the damage is massive and the laborers are few.

"This is the second storm," Campbell said. "They came back to back, and the competition for contractors will be severe. There will be a lot of people wanting other people to work. There's already people pulling out of here and hauling their equipment to Florida." 

They're headed to Florida because there's likely more money to be made there after Hurricane Michael struck last week. The fresher the disaster, the higher the price for cleanup work. Campbell said he can afford to stay in North Carolina because it's not worth it for him to move out.

"There's a limited amount of people who will come to the storm. I'm pretty much retired and this is all I do," Campbell said.

Campbell said even though his business profits from this kind of destruction, he always prays the storms don’t hit.

“This is heart wrenching, you know? We just come in and help clean it up and make some money doing it," Campbell said.

It's not all profit. Like any small business owner, Campbell's line of work incurs a number of expenses.

"You gotta be able to pay for the equipment and the fuel and the lodging and getting back and forth," he said.

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He said subcontractors like him need to have $10,000 in loose capital to get started cleaning up sites. But he's the low man on the contractor totem pole. He works with other, larger contractors who get paid by FEMA.

"He pays us before he gets his. And he's got a contractor above him. You know, everybody works for everybody else, if there's enough money in it. If it doesn't pay enough, then everybody just goes away and lets him lose his bond and lose the equipment and his house and anything else if he's stupid enough to underbid it," Campbell said.

Campbell said he feels like he's doing the community in Wilmington, North Carolina, some good, and he's not willing to chase dollars at other disaster sites. He and his crew will likely stay on in Wilmington until at least Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas.

“We’re helping this community," Campbell said. "There was a lady who told me the other day that she could not get out of her driveway without risking her life. There are rats in these piles and there are snakes. We got a 13-foot python out of a pile of brush.”

Massive trees in Wilmington perished as a result of Hurricane Florence. Crews are in town to clean up the mess.
Massive trees in Wilmington perished as a result of Hurricane Florence. Crews are in town to clean up the mess. - 

Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, less severe than expected. But the storm also dumped more than 3 feet of rain on much of North Carolina. Campbell said he's happy to help out where he can, but because there's more demand than supply, he needs to feel like the community wants him here.

"You got to be appreciated," Campbell said. "If you're appreciated in an area, it helps a lot. If you're not, you're ready to leave quick."

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Follow Andy Uhler at @andy_uhler