Sandbagged By The Deluge

Amid the flooded homes and ruined businesses in the Midwest, at least one industry is thriving: the sand supply business. In St. Louis alone, officials estimate, 850,000 sandbags have been tossed and stacked to stave off Mother Nature's watery assault. Lake County, S.D., has used 45,000 bags, and Dane County, Wis., has gone through some 70,000. In hard-hit Des Moines, the number is staggering: 1.5 million bags. That's 30,000 tons of the stuff--nearly 2,000 truckloads.

But there's no windfall with the rainfall. Steady precipitation over seven weeks has interrupted construction, shutting down many regular buyers. Besides, at between $2 and $4 a ton, plus transport, sand is not exactly a high-margin item. Tim Mallicoat, division manager of Hallett Materials Inc. in Des Moines, reports that 1993 sales are down 25% from last year. Hallett sold more sand in four days at the Mississippi River's crest than it did during any month prior to the flood. But "the big picture is still bad," Mallicoat says. "I'd much rather have last spring."

When the water finally recedes, some local governments likely will recycle the sand, sans bags, for projects postponed in the spring. Some suppliers worry that will create a slump in new-sand demand. Maybe they ought to think about expanding into the topsoil business.

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