COASTAL SOUTH—In the past month and a half, fitness facilities in the coastal South have taken a beating – literally. While Katrina proved to be the bigger of the two storms, Rita still packed a powerful punch. Here’s an updated look at how some fitness facilities in the affected area faired, and how others are realizing just how important their health club is to their community.

Dion Grossnickle, General Manager at Cross Gates Athletic Club in Slidell, LA, always knew his members loved their club. He just didn’t realize how much it meant to them. While one of the club’s two locations had minor damage and was open soon after the storm, the other club had six to seven inches of mud and debris from hurricane Katrina’s storm surge. At least 50 members drove up to see the devastation for themselves, many of them crying, Grossnickle said.

“It was then that I started to realize that this was not just my business and my job that I was cleaning but a second home to many,” he said. “Here are our members who also lost most or all of their physical possessions, and they teared up when they saw their club’s devastation.”

Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi was also hit hard by Katrina. Of the three fitness facilities on the base, Blake fitness centers suffered the least amount of damage with minimal ceiling leaks. Dragon Fitness Center had water, roof, ceiling and air conditioning damage along with a basketball court that was so buckled it was described by an Air Force spokesperson as, “looking like a roller coaster track.” The Triangle Fitness Center, the oldest of the three facilities, sustained even more extensive roof damage causing rust to most of its fitness equipment. The base’s sports facility had mostly wind damage to the dugouts and fences and water erosion of the playing fields’ soil. However, by the end of August, Blake and Dragon’s locker room areas were open for clean-up crews and contractors to shower. And, just five days after Katrina hit the area, the Blake Fitness Center was open for full service 24 hours a day.

About 1,550 visit the fitness centers on an average day. A month after Katrina, that number dropped to 222, but representatives from Keesler say customer counts were increasing each day.

Hurricane Rita affected clubs on the Louisiana-Texas border, and although some could not be reached, it seems that most clubs in Houston and Galveston had minimal damage. 24 Hour Fitness evacuated and closed 27 of its clubs in the Houston metropolitan area. The large chain set up a phone line for employees and after restoring power, opened all 27 clubs on September 27.

It was a similar story for Galveston Health and Racquet Club, which reopened that same day. The facility only had minor damage with fences and a palm tree down.

“Our biggest problem was getting our staff back to work,” said Gerry De Prete, general manager of Galveston Health and Racquet Club. “With the mandatory evacuation we had staff scattered all around the state of Texas.”

After running the clubs with a skeleton crew for a few days, the club is now back to normal.