It's Hurricane Season #BePrepared: SBA Region 4 Special Edition

SBA Region IV Office September 2019

u s small business administration

Hear it From the Survivors of Natural Disaster- #BePrepared

Hurricane preparedness

The stories below are true stories from entrepreneurs located in the Southeastern Region. The stories should speak to all entrepreneurs and stress the importance of not only being prepared, but to also be made aware of what assistance exists for entrepreneurs recovering from a disaster. Hurricane season is here- it is time to be aware.  

The following small businesses were all nominated for the 2019 Phoenix Award for a business whose company recovered from a significant disaster-related physical loss.

St. Augustine, Florida: Hurricane Michael

Edgewater and news

Virginia Whetstone is the owner of the Edgewater Inn in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida.

On October 7, 2016, the CBS Evening News reporter Manuel Bojorquez reported, “Hurricane Matthew pummeled St. Augustine, Florida, leaving more than half of the city's 14,000 residents trapped inside businesses and homes. Flooding is not the only problem there; Trees and power lines are down throughout the area.”

The Edgewater Inn’s property sits adjacent to the historic Bridge of Lions. According to Jake Martin, reporter for The St. Augustine Record, “The County’s bridges were closed before 11 a.m., many of which remained closed until late in the afternoon of Oct. 8. The National Guard was called in to block access to Anastasia Island via the Bridge of Lions, creating a harrowing welcome for returning islanders itching to see how their properties fared in the storm.” He also reported that once the hurricane made landfall, “Thousands of homes and thousands of families were affected. Many more thousands of stories are to be told, aided by photos of high water marks, downed trees, piles of debris and household items on curbsides, or by group shots with the neighbors, complete strangers and entire sports teams who volunteered to help clean up. People who just lost “stuff” counted themselves among the lucky. They soon turned their attention to helping others. A public group on Facebook called “Saint Augustine Hurricane Recovery” had well over 12,000 members by Friday. The page was created to link those in need with those who could do something about it.

Virginia Whetstone, owner of the Edgewater Inn, prepared the best they could as many entrepreneurs did across St. Augustine. Despite all of the preparations, some were woefully inadequate. The stacks of several feet of sandbags did little to stave off the flood water that streamed into the Edgewater inn. They did not protect the hotel rooms from the 24 inches of water that seeped into the hotel rooms to damage the furniture, drapes, carpeting and bedding. The Whetstone's rental house and their other business facilities were also impacted (Ms. Whetstone is also the owner of Whetstone Chocolates of St. Augustine).

Virginia was at a loss for how she would recover. Unfortunately, a few years earlier she let her flood policy expire on Edgewater Inn, because of the lengthy construction on the bridge that resulted in a five-year loss of revenue. The scene was not appealing to tourists and soon the income from the Inn could not support all the expenses, and the cancellation of flood insurance was one of the repercussions of the situation.

Fortunately, Virginia learned about the federal aid being offered to hurricane survivors from media reports and visits from Senator Marco Rubio to Gov. Rick Scott to St. Augustine.

Although several of her businesses were damaged, Virginia primarily needed financial assistance for the Edgewater Inn. She expected the wind from the hurricane would cause damage to the hotel, but she had not anticipated the flooding that occurred.

With funds from SBA’s disaster business loan, Virginia was able to minimize the time that the Edgewater Inn was closed. She constructed the blueprint of a recovery plan and began removing debris and material that caused hazardous conditions. She organized her staff along with construction workers and assigned them to tasks deemed a priority. She worked diligently to open rooms of the hotel as soon as they were ready. She also had to juggle her time between the significantly damaged rental property and other businesses that were impacted. It took almost 40 days to get all her businesses including the rental property and Edgewater Inn back into their pre-disaster conditions.

Virginia maintained her staff after the disaster and was more prepared when Hurricane Irma hit St. Augustine. For her business acumen, disaster preparedness efforts, resiliency and ability to overcome the devastation from not one but two hurricanes, Virginia Whetstone is a worthy nominee for SBA’s 2019 Phoenix Award for a business whose company recovered from a significant disaster-related physical loss.

map of desoto

Arcadia, Florida- Hurricane Irma



The Badenhorsts once lived in South Africa and managed a skilled nursing facility with over 4,000 beds. Mr. Badenhorst was even appointed by Nelson Mandela as a Member of the South African Government Advisory Board, advising them about housing for the aging. This experience fits so well with the needs of Florida that is not only the destination for snowbirds, but home to thousands of aging citizens seeking housing in a warm climate, while enjoying a reasonable cost of living.

The family emigrated to the United States in July 2001 and were immediately in their element as they began to manage 13 nursing facilities. In 2014, they purchased 78 bed facility named Desoto Health & Rehab Nursing Home in Arcadia, Florida and settled into a familiar operation. Operating a facility for mature people comes with unique problems. 

When Louis Badenhorst passed away in 2017, Heloise Badenhorst assumed responsibility for the facility. It was not long when grief gave way to tragedy. In Sept. 2017, Irma made landfall as a category 4 hurricane in the Florida Keys and struck southwestern Florida at category 3 intensity. Irma caused widespread devastation across the affected areas and was one of the strongest and costliest hurricane.

Reports of the hurricane continued with increased frequency as the path of Hurricane Irma took it across Florida and onto the eastern side of the state. Mrs. Badenhorst not only worried for her residents, but also for the fate of the facility and her employees.

The winds from the hurricane caused parts of the roof to fly off like confetti. Rain pounded the windows and debris whisked around the facility. The staff was busily taking care of patients and trying to settle their nerves and make sure they were safe. The disaster seemed to last for hours and hours. When the hurricane had passed, she found that walls, siding, windows, trees, landscaping, equipment, furniture and fixtures were all impacted. One wing of the facility was destroyed and although there was insurance, it might not be enough to cover the physical damage. The financial impact was also of concern. Not only were residents displaced, but the facility was losing approximately $300 per bed per day (over $200,000/month).

Desoto Health Rehabilitation is on property owned by Kingseal LLC. The damage to the facility resulted in an SBA disaster business loan for $117,500 in physical losses to machinery and equipment and $200,000 in working capital needs. The destruction to the building and grounds was so severe and significant that SBA verified damage in excess of $3.6 million. After insurance paid nearly $900,000, First Legacy Holdings, LLC was approved for a loan for $1,600,000 for the repairs to the real estate.

Desoto Health Rehabilitation is a key part of the Arcadia community, in fact it is third largest employer in the county. Due to the constant increase in the number of retired people coming to Florida and with approximately 20% of the Desoto County population in the age group of 65 and older, the need for elder care facilities is significant and a vital part of the community. The range of specialists and services cover a range of situations such as respite care, short and long term rehabilitation, nursing services, nutritional support as well as patient centered care.

Although small businesses are a critical component of and major contributor to the strength of local economies, Mrs. Badenhorst sought the financial assistance from SBA so that she could maintain the Desoto Health and Rehabilitation that residents call their home. The care and concern for them was foremost and caused her to be driven toward disaster recovery. The actions taken by Mrs. Badenhorst and the support she received from her staff and help from Christian Companies, LLC to keep the facility in operation, allowed them to take care of this vulnerable population while maintaining employment of over 150 specialists. For her perseverance and dedication toward the restoration of the Desoto Health Rehabilitation facility, Mrs. Badenhorst is a worthy candidate for the 2019 Phoenix Award for a business whose company recovered from a significant disaster-related physical loss.

Miami Beach, Florida- Hurricane Irma

CheeseBurger Baby

When Disaster Strikes, SBA Support Can Be a Critical Lifeline

In the 15 years since Stephanie Vitori started Cheeseburger Baby, her small Miami Beach burger joint has attained something of a cult following. Free publicity propelled by the Food Network and scores of celebrity clients – including Jay-Z, Beyonce, David Beckham, and the late Anthony Bourdain – brings tourists in by the thousands.

But, in 2017, CBB, as it is known locally, was almost wiped out – literally – by one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Hurricane Irma’s 100 mph winds knocked out power for two weeks, while extensive flooding ruined inventory, air conditioning units, freezers and ventilation systems.

“It was the roughest road I’ve ever travelled,” says Vitori, who says 30%of sales evaporated overnight. “It was a zombie zone in South Beach. People were scared to come since they thought everything was destroyed.”

The legacy of the South Florida staple may have ended abruptly in the aftermath of Irma, but Vitori was able to rebuild thanks in large part to a disaster assistance loan facilitated by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In the 23 months since Irma, the Trump administration approved over $1.7 billion in SBA disaster loan assistance to small businesses, nonprofits, homeowners and renters to repair damage or replace property not covered by insurance or other forms of assistance.

This year, El Niño and warmer-than-average temperatures in the Atlantic are likely to result in at least three major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With more than two months remaining in the 2019 hurricane season (May 20 - November 30), the White House and officials at the SBA are working to raise awareness of available disaster assistance resources., an inter-agency public service initiative, provides business owners and homeowners with a disaster preparedness toolkit for mitigating damage caused by unexpected natural disasters.

When disasters occur, the SBA works hand-in-hand with FEMA to support recovery efforts.

Businesses and homeowners that have applied for an SBA disaster assistance loan are eligible to receive expedited financing through the SBA’s Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program. The program provides immediate assistance to impacted businesses and homeowners awaiting approval for long-term financing. Express Bridge loans up to $25,000 with terms up to seven years are available through designated SBA Express lenders.

For Vitori, whose Miami Beach restaurant was crippled by natural disaster, the SBA’s expedited bridge loan was a critical lifeline.

“FEMA referred me to the SBA, and from there, they brought me to the SBDC [Small Business Development Center] for the bridge loan in the meantime, because I was in such a panic and I was desperate,” says Vitori, emotionally recalling the experience. “The SBA and the SBDC helped Cheeseburger Baby by giving me the low interest amount loan to help me get back on my feet. I think I’m always going to have a lifetime relationship with them.”

In recent years, processing times for SBA disaster assistance loans have been substantially reduced. The strides, say observers, reflect the agency’s efforts to streamline and modernize the approval process. Three separate independent audits conducted by the SBA’s Office of Inspector General found that, despite unprecedented volume, disaster applications in 2017 were generally processed well within the agency’s 45-day processing goal for Hurricanes Harvey (11-17 days), Irma (15-21 days), and Maria (27-30 days).

Watch the Video of Cheeseburger Baby that tells their story and was played as they received the 2019 Phoenix Award for a business whose company recovered from a significant disaster-related physical loss:

Watch Here

Columbia, South Carolina: Damages caused by severe storms and flooding

Lake Forest

Small businesses are a critical component of and major contributor to the strength of local economies. When consumers patronize local small businesses, they are essentially giving money back to their local community. Perhaps that is why it was so crucial that Michael Marsha, president of Forest Lake Fabrics, Inc. and his wife did everything they could to restore their business after the October floods of 2015.

Michael Marsha (pronounced Mar-shay) is a third generation owner of Forest Lake Fabrics, Inc., which was founded in 1964. He is as dedicated toward keeping the business going for his customers, vendors, employees and community as he is devoted to the business formerly operated by his grandfather and father.

Weather forecasters reported the storms were moving south which indicated that the Columbia, SC area would not receive the brunt of the huge storm. But Michael Marsha was not willing to take chances. Instead, he went to the local Lowe’s building supply store and purchased bags of masonry sand. In addition to positioning the sand bags strategically around the store, he moved all of the fabric bolts on the lower parts of the racks so that any water that seeped into the first floor would not ruin the inventory. Feeling ill at ease, Michael Marsha left his home throughout the night to check on the store. Soon evacuation orders and road closures were being made. Newscasters began showing constant reports of flooding and showing film of deteriorating conditions throughout the impacted counties.

The heavy rains caused creeks and rivers to overflow their banks, and storm drains were stressed as were the dams that were eventually breached. Several days went by before Michael could get to the building. It was shocking to find that the business property that had never been flooded was suddenly inundated with six and a half feet of rushing flood water. The force of the water was so strong that it blew a 20 foot hole in the back of the building. The speed of the raging flood water was so intense that it pushed the bolts of fabric and other showroom contents through the windows and doors at the front of the building. When the floods ceased, fabric was found as far as a half of a mile from the Marsha’s home in the small community of Forest Acres.

Where to begin and how to start must be challenging to figure out when most everything you have worked so hard for is with covered with mud, saturated with smelly flood water, broken or destroyed. Although the property is in a flood zone, nothing like this ever happened before. The Marshas were at a fork in the road and had to decide whether they should rebuild or relocate. Once the decision to stay was made, the hard work began.

Within a few days, several people in the community came to the rescue and volunteered to help. Armed with two pressure washers, Michael Marsha worked to wash away the evidence that the flood waters left throughout the building and parking lot. The family and volunteers congregated at 9:30 a.m. and worked diligently cutting out sheetrock, gutting sections of the building, and dumping out damaged inventory so that the business could be restored.

The significant damage meant that it was going to take a long time to rebuild. In order to minimize the downtime, Michael Marsha was able to rent a spot just two doors down that had been barely flooded. Ginger Marsha began buying fabrics and putting samples into the new store space. Luckily the second story of the original building was not damaged and available to store bolts of fabric and other inventory. Although they had to go back and forth to fill fabric orders, this enable the Marshas to keep the business in operation and everyone employed while renovations were being made to the original building.

The reconstruction took months and months and included recommendations from the local building authority and FEMA. Michael Marsha’s construction plan included mitigation to help prevent the same damage from occurring again. He purchased storm shields for the loading area and incorporated reinforced concrete and steel six and one half feet up all the way around the building and added brick veneer for an extra touch to make the building not only more resistant to flooding and stronger, but give it a fresh look.

When they reopened, they were having their best sales ever. Not only were all the staff retained, but the increased sales resulted in increased hours. The Marsha’s daughter who came to help in the aftermath of the flood is now a designer and works in the store full time. Michael Marsha says, “After a disaster you really find out who you are and who your God is.” He is grateful for the actions of the community and for the SBA disaster loan.

Mr. Marsha has never been one to borrow from a bank. Instead he decided to grow the business slowly. The disaster took a toll on the business and rebuilding was going to be costly. Fortunately, he heard about SBA’s disaster assistance program and applied for a disaster business loan and was approved for $735,700 which was instrumental in helping the business recover.

Despite the substantial damage, the enormity of the clean-up and energy it took to overcome the devastation, Michael and Ginger Marsha remained dedicated to see their business restored and continued to provide employment for others. For their perseverance and faith that their business could be restored and improved to minimize impacts of future flood damage, the Marshas are worthy recipients of the 2018 Phoenix award for a business whose company recovered from a significant disaster-related physical loss.