NEW YORK (Reuters) - Yoshiaki Yuyama entered freezer No. 5 for the first time on Thursday, hoping the tight doors had spared some $9000 worth of mochi ice cream in his Fairview, New Jersey, factory after Hurricane Sandy destroyed power and flooded the building.
He had been without power for more than 48 hours
Breath steaming in the cold air, Yuyama and his manager Yasuhisa Tanaka, ripped open one of 300 boxes, each holding 96 tennis-ball sized ice-cream balls wrapped in sweet pounded rice called mochi.
They squeezed the soft green packages and groaned.
A total loss. Everything would have to be thrown away. Another freezer held some 2000 boxes of the sweet Japanese treat, and those would have to go, too.
Yuyama’s experience echoes that of thousands of small business owners across the U.S. East Coast, who are struggling to mop up after one of the largest storms to ever hit the United States.
Many businesses are still without heat, power and telephone service. Some are losing thousands of dollars per day as the storm’s impact drags on.
“Losing my business means losing my house, said Yuyama. “It means losing everything.” He said he’s not yet sure what insurance will cover, if anything.
One disaster modeling company forecast the insured losses from Sandy at up to $20 billion and the economic damages at up to $50 billion, with almost two-thirds of those losses in New York and New Jersey.
On top of that, FEMA is expected to face up to 80,000 flood insurance claims from Sandy. Assuming those claims cost about as much as they did last year for Hurricane Irene, that would represent roughly $2.4 billion in additional losses.
Combined, Sandy could easily become the second-most expensive catastrophe of any kind in American history, behind only Hurricane Katrina.
A native of Shizuoka, Japan, Yuyama is no stranger to natural disasters. He grew up seeing the effects of the region’s typhoons, which flooded buildings and cut power.
But Hurricane Sandy made it personal.
Yuyama, now living in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, has everything riding on his 16,000-square foot factory, which manufactures and sells mochi ice cream.
The treat is sold at two local Whole Foods Market Inc supermarkets, as well as Asian groceries such as H-Mart. Flavors include green tea and coffee.
Four days after Hurricane Sandy swept through the area, Yuyama’s Fairview factory is silent and dark. Electronics equipment and papers litter the office floor after a foot of flood waters streamed through the doors and delivery bay.
The waters have mostly receded, but waterlogged bags of rice flour sit on palates, and freezers are stuffed with thousands of dollars in melting ice cream.
“I guess all my customers lost my mochi ice cream,” he said. “They might want more, but they lost lots of money, too.”
Yuyama is still paying his 10 employees, although they can not work. He lost a week’s supply of prepared product. Some $40,000 worth of edible supplies are decaying in a pitch-black, windowless 50-degree warehouse.
Destroyed paper supplies add thousands more to the damages.
“Even if we got power this week, I can’t make any profit,” he said.
Yuyama started his business in 1990, selling Japanese pastries and mochi ice cream out of an Edgewater, New Jersey, Japanese market. Demand for the treats soared. He shuttered his storefront and began manufacturing the ice creams exclusively.
By 2011, revenues had reached $1.5 million, and had grown 15 percent for two consecutive years.
Now his outlook is uncertain. “I won’t get any money this week, or even next week or the third week,” he said. “December I’m going to have a big problem.”
Yuyama comforts himself with a single thought, however. Given the horrific consequences of last year’s tsunami in Japan, he believes he got off easy.
“My situation is nothing like those people,” he said. “I just lose money. After I get power, I can start my business again. They still cannot work.”
Reporting by Chelsea Emery; additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by Todd Eastham