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Eileen McClelland: Jewelers of Louisiana Starts Fund for Flood Victims

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When Kevin Dunehew fled his rapidly flooding rental house in the middle of the night, all he had time to grab was his jewelry, his cat Scooter and a spare pair of shoes.

He tossed Scooter in his vehicle and began driving through water that had risen to 4 feet in his Baton Rouge, LA, neighborhood.

“I was praying I would make it to the end of the road,” he says.

Rescue boats bobbed in the water alongside his truck, everyone using whatever they had to make it to safety.

“I just traded in my Camaro for a GMC Sierra that sits up pretty high,” he says. “If I was in the Camaro, no way I would have made it.”

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Dunehew, assistant manager at Pattons Fine Jewelry in Baton Rouge, lost nearly everything he owned but did make it out safely. “Now we’re worried about looters. People are taking what little we have left out in the front yard to dry,” he says.

It’s been estimated that only 12 to 14 percent of Louisiana’s flood victims had carried federal flood insurance since they were not in a federal flood zone or even in a flood-prone area. Dunehew’s neighbor told him he lived on that street for 35 years and it had never before flooded.

But between Aug. 11 and Aug. 14, more than 20 inches of rain fell in and around East Baton Rouge; rivers ran over their banks, leaving a vast swath of damage. It’s estimated at least 60,000 homes were damaged and 30,000 people rescued around the state. More than 100,000 individuals and households have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has approved more than $127 million in assistance.

Half of Pattons’ staff of eight experienced flooding at home so severe they had to move out. “I got about 6 feet in my house and my jeweler got about 6 feet in his house,” Dunehew says. Both are sleeping in an apartment above the store for now.

Dunehew is one of more than an estimated 100 people employed in the jewelry industry affected by the crisis.

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Chad Berg, VP at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, says 15 of his company’s employees have been flooded out of their homes. Lee Michaels has five stores in Louisiana, as well as stores in Mississippi and Texas.

Jewelers of Louisiana, a statewide organization representing more than 1,500 employees, has established a fund to help anyone in the jewelry industry affected by recent events.

“The floods are worse than any of us could have ever expected,” says Berg, president of Jewelers of Louisiana. “This will change the footprint of South Louisiana for years to come. However, people in South Louisiana are resilient and we will come back stronger than ever from this terrible experience.”

Tammy Kidder, VP of Jewelers of Louisiana and VP of merchandising at Stuller in Lafayette, LA, says, “The heroism and camaraderie we have seen from everyone coming together throughout the industry has been incredible.”

A fund for anyone affected and employed in the Louisiana jewelry industry has been set up with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Using the foundation provides an important advantage to all involved: companies don’t pay taxes on contributions, and employees receiving grants don’t pay income taxes. Anyone who was impacted by the flood may apply for grant assistance once the fund is funded.

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The group encourages anyone in the industry to make a donation to www.employees1st.org


Eileen McClelland is the managing editor at INSTORE Magazine. Email her at: [email protected]. This article is an online extra for INSTORE Online.

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