Katrina's debris-strewn streets produce stray nails, flat tires and plenty of exasperation
Thursday, October 27, 2005
By Manuel Torres
St. Bernard/Plaquemines bureau
Certainties are few in post-Katrina south Louisiana. But drive around and you may run into what seems to be one of the few sure things left: Getting a flat tire.
With enough debris around town to fill up 12 Superdomes, much of it is ending up lodged in tires, leaving motorists fuming and keeping tire shops busy with repairs that more than double pre-Katrina volumes.
"For tires, this is like a war zone," said Texas roofer Ron Lotten, as he hopped recently from one Metairie tire shop to another, looking for someone who would fix a flat the same day. "It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack."
He's hardly alone.
AAA, which has more than 170,000 members in the New Orleans metro area, said roadside assistance calls for flat tires jumped 62 percent last month compared with September 2004, spokesman Mike Right said.
And though no one in the industry seems to have metrowide figures, nails and screws in roadways are giving local tires such a whomping that auto shops are turning down customers or have waits of hours and even days.
"We're swamped. You can barely get into our parking lot," said Nancy Ohler, co-owner of Fuzzy's Tire Service in Mandeville.
Fuzzy's is fixing about 50 tires a day, more than twice its prestorm figures It is the busiest it has been in 18 years, Ohler said.
It doesn't help that as with most other services in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, many tire and auto shops have not reopened.
"I drove to three places before I found one open," said Chalmette resident Katherine Savoie as she waited at a repair shop in Kenner, where she has temporarily relocated.
Unfortunately, tires, and their owners, are unlikely to catch a break soon. The road ahead will likely remain littered during months of debris pickup and years of demolition and rebuilding. But contractors can do something to help, Lotten said. He uses large magnets to collect errant nails at his job sites.
Richard Steele, manager at Delta World Tire in Metairie, said nails and screws are causing most tire casualties these days. Some tires arrive at his store so ripped up that customers have to buy new ones, he said. His shop is fixing about 20 punctured tires a day, he said, almost three times its pre-Katrina volume, forcing him to turn away customers daily.
"Today I was booked for the rest of the day at 8:30," Steele said.
Drivers, however, are not defenseless.
Right, of AAA, said keeping adequate air tire pressure, including in the spare tire, goes a long way in fending off punctures. He also said drivers should check their tires often for nails and other objects that may have become lodged in them so they can fix the tire before it goes flat.
Julie Webb, owner of Complete Automotive Repair and Service in Metairie, said drivers should be wary of using canned products that inflate a flat tire on the spot. Webb said many of those products spray a gooey substance that solidifies along the inside walls of the tire, often in an uneven pattern. The substance stops the air leak, she said, but may also cause the tire to become unbalanced, decreasing its life. She said it's better to have the puncture fixed at a tire or auto shop.
"Use the can if it's your last resort, but I would not recommend it," she said.
John Glennon, a tire specialist for Crashforensic.com, said flat tires should be repaired using both a patch inside the tire and a plug inserted from the outside, a job that can cost up to $30 in some places. He said drivers should avoid repairs that use only the plug, which can usually be done for less than $10 but can also lead to dangerous tire failure.
In the meantime, some drivers said they'll continue trying to avoid debris and the flat-tire frustration that comes with it. Lotten said he may have to get used to it. He had to deal with four tire punctures in his Ford F-250 pickup since he got to town two weeks ago.
"I can't get anywhere without picking a nail," he said. "It's very annoying."
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Manuel Torres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 352-2543.