*See images shot by 4 Wheel Parts employees during rescue & recovery efforts in the gallery below
Transamerican Auto Parts this week has been providing supplies and support to several employees on the front lines of flood rescue efforts in Houston and southeast Texas.
The company owns the 4 Wheel Parts retail chain, which has more than 80 locations spanning the entire country, including three brick-and-mortar shops in Houston. Two of those locations remain closed due to impassable roads, but the actual buildings appear unscathed by the storm that unleashed a record amount of rain on America's fourth-most populous city.
Transamerican president and CEO, Greg Adler, confirmed on Wednesday that the company’s employees and their families were all safe.
Boots on the Ground
Craig Reitenour, the assistant manager of the 4 Wheel Parts store in west Houston, has been using his personal 4x4 vehicle—sometimes working alongside the Cajun Navy—to rescue flood victims.
“Craig is very emotional about the people who are helping out with him while they save these kids, these babies and older people,” Jeremy Komorn, the South Texas/Oklahoma regional manager of 4 Wheel Parts, told THE SHOP magazine. “I was down there with Craig yesterday. Just talking to him, you can see it in his eyes—the dedication he’s got. He just wants to keep going, going, going, and helping more people out.
“Even yesterday, when his vehicle broke down, he’s pacing back and forth just wanting to get back out there,” Komorn continued. “We had his vehicle towed back to his home. His wife’s vehicle is also down and they’re down to one vehicle: A Jeep. That’s what they’re using right now.”
Komorn, who lives in Austin, drove a truck on Wednesday full of supplies down to Reitenour and other rescue teams composed of 4 Wheel Parts employees.
"I got home at midnight last night," said Komorn, who didn't rule out the possibility of making another supply run in the coming days.
“The biggest thing they’re asking for are things like baby formula, diapers, stuff for the kids. There’s a lot of bottled water on the way already, so I wanted to bring things that they needed right away," he said. "Another thing they really need is bug spray. The mosquitos out there are going to get horrendous in the next couple of days as the water recedes; and the mosquitos are breeding.
“I also brought tuna, 1,000 hot dogs, and different snack foods that don’t need to be refrigerated.”
4 Wheel Parts stores located far from the devastation—including Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso, Texas—have become supply donation centers.
“Those supplies are headed down that way starting tomorrow (Sept. 1),” Kormorn said. “We also have sent out several generators we had in our stores. Probably sent out half-a-dozen generators.”
Another 4 Wheel Parts employee, Felix Villegas, has been helping in rescue efforts without even knowing the fate of his own home, Kormorn said.
On Thursday, Adler told THE SHOP magazine that the company is trying to do all it can to help those in need in disaster-stricken areas.
“We set up a crisis fund last year,” he said. “We actually had an emergency meeting about that crisis fund today to understand the challenges that all our employees are struggling with down in Houston, and taking care of those who need the help right away. Guys like Craig (Reitenour) and others who are displaced and need somewhere to stay and are going to need some long-term help to get back on their feet.”
4 Wheel Parts and Transamerican employees all across the nation also will have the opportunity to donate cash or vacation time to their colleagues affected by the storm. The company has committed to matching those donations dollar for dollar.
"Craig (Reitenour) was actually supposed to start vacation today. He canceled his trip and in lieu of that, he’s signed up for the American Red Cross. Him and his wife are going to work the American Red Cross shelter during the entire extent of his vacation," Komorn said.
“It makes me really proud to be a part of what the off-road community is doing,” he said. “It’s inspirational to see what our guys are doing, (including) Jeremy, and the team that we have in Texas helping out—and reading about what else other guys are doing.”
Houston Store Reopens
One of three Houston-based 4 Wheel Parts stores reopened on Thursday. The store—centrally located in Houston near NRG Stadium where the NFL’s Houston Texans play—worked to fulfill backlogged orders.
“The first thing they did today was go through their calendars and start calling customers who were supposed to have their vehicles in and trying to help them out, reschedule them where they can, check to make sure they’re okay, and seeing if there’s anything they need,” Kormorn said.
It could be quite some time until the 4 Wheel Parts stores affected by the storm become fully functional.
“I’m hoping in the next week we’ll be 100-percent operational. But even then, we’ll have backlogs of stuff we weren’t able to do, and then the overwhelming amount of shipments that will be coming in,” Kormorn said. “Typically, when we have a devastating event like this, we’re months away from totally being back to normal operations.”
How to Help
There are so many ways to help Hurricane Harvey victims suffering in southeastern Texas. Adler suggested one charity in particular that hits close to home for those working in the automotive aftermarket.
“One place that people can donate is led by my good friend in the industry, Joel Ayres, and that’s the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF),” Adler said. “That’s a unique way to help those in our industry who might have lost everything and need help.”
It is also important, Adler said, to remember the longstanding effects from the flooding and devastation in Texas.
“I’m in sunny California, and so many people are reading about this from other parts of the country. It’s easy to forget about this as it fades out of the news, but this is going to take months—if not years—to get that part of the country back on its feet,” he said. “From our end, we’re going to do what we can as a company to help our employees and then all the people of Houston and southeast Texas who have been impacted. It’s going to be a long-term thing. I hope the aftermarket community can find ways to not forget about this and continue to find ways to help those in need.”