In the aftermath of torrential rains that flooded much of Texas and Oklahoma, overwhelmed contractors are being inundated with desperate cries for help from homeowners. They fear homeowners who can’t be helped will turn to unscrupulous “storm chasers,” who give the industry a bad name.

A series of sometimes violent May thunderstorms gave Texas and Oklahoma their wettest months on record. Houston was one of the hardest hit areas of the May flooding, which killed 31 people and caused President Obama to declare Texas a major disaster area, according to CNN. 

“Homeowners are starving for information and they’re in shock,” said Dan Bawden, president and CEO of Legal Eagle Contractors Co. “They want someone to come over and tell them what’s going to happen.”

For most, what’s going to happen is waiting — a lot of it. Backlogs are the rule of the day in Houston and other hard-hit areas. For example, King of Texas Roofing Co. had 174 leak calls alone in early June, said Nelson Braddy, president and CEO. Braddy said wind and hail from the storms did particular damage to roofs. “I’ve been in the roofing business in Texas for 33 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Braddy, past president of the National Roofing Contractors Association. “It’s pretty brutal.”

Bawden said he’s had so many calls, he’s had to triage his customers, even pulling crews off jobs that are in progress to address emergency situations. He expects storm-related work to affect his business for the next two years. “You lay in bed at night thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Bawden, who is also second vice chair of National Association of Home Builders Remodelers (NAHBR). “It’s very frustrating to not be able to serve all the people you need to serve.”

There’s never a good time for disastrous storms, but these couldn’t have come at a worse time, said Bill Shaw a designer with Remodelers of Houston who’s a past chairman of NAHBR. He said most contractors he knows in the area were fighting a labor shortage before the storm. “The workload we’ve got is already overwhelming,” he said. “A lot of people are going to have to wait because there’s just not the resources to help everyone.”

That means Shaw and other contractors are servicing their existing clients first. But in hot, humid Houston, homeowners can only wait so long before mold takes over. No one knows that better than contractors themselves. So Bawden and others have temporarily turned themselves into the equivalent of remediation companies, which specialize in cleaning up after disasters.

Bawden is using his own equipment wherever he can to help dry out flooded houses. And he’s advising those he can’t help with a step-by-step action plan to address flooding. “Some of these folks will call for remodeling projects later,” he said. “It’s marketing in a backward way. But it’s also God’s work. And it helps you cope with not being able to go out on every call.”

It also helps homeowners understand the difference between legitimate contractors, and so-called storm chasers. Shaw, who is past chair of NAHBR, said he’s meeting with other contractors to determine how they can help as many people as possible to prevent the storm chasers from taking advantage of the unsuspecting. Bawden said homeowners are most vulnerable after natural disasters. “They’re shaken and shocked and scared. They’re crying on the phone. It’s just pitiful,” he said. “They’ll do anything to be able to say in their homes, especially seniors. But lots of times storm chasers just take the money and run.”

Meanwhile, Shaw said contractors are gearing up to battle the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which determines how much restoration funding to provide homeowners. He said homeowners and their contractors will have a hard time getting FEMA money because many homes are in the 100-year flood plain. As such, FEMA will only pay for repairs that are up to 50% of a home’s value. The only other option is to raise the house above the flood line, which alone can cost $50,000.

“A lot of customers are going to have to self pay for a pretty hefty percentage of the work,” Bawden said. “And people who don’t have the money will have to sell the house and move somewhere else.”

But faced with a complicated mix of government, legal and personal issues, contractors will have their own problems to deal with as they and their customers recover from the storm.

“Getting paid for these projects is really difficult,” Shaw said. “When FEMA is involved and insurance companies, if you’re not set up to handle that then you’re really at a loss.”