CINCINNATI -- Blue is suddenly de rigueur on Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky rooftops. And the hottest phone number in town is the cell number of a good roofer.

Drive down almost any residential street and those ubiquitous blue tarps protecting damaged roofs seem almost everywhere.

The near hurricane force winds of Sept. 14 caused unprecedented roof damage to homes and businesses and triggered an equally staggering demand for roofers and roofing materials.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Dave Molloy, 47, fourth-generation owner of Molloy Roofing Co. in Blue Ash.

Molloy has been so swamped with calls, 140 in the first hour the Monday after the Sept. 14 winds, that he’s limiting work to previous customers.

Likewise, Tony Singler, 64, owner of TS Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc. in Cheviot has been in the roofing business for over half a century and he’s never seen anything like it. “It’s a jungle out there,” he said.

Molloy said the standard wind warranty on flat asphalt shingles is for winds up to about 55 miles per hour, although heavier dimensional shingles are designed to withstand stronger winds.

At their peak, gusts from the remnants of Hurricane Ike topped out at about 74 miles per hour in Cincinnati, just short of a Category 1 hurricane, said the National Weather Service.

The heavy winds knocked out electricity to more than 2 million people in the Ohio Valley from Louisville to Cleveland.

It’s not just the number of calls for roof repairs but how widespread they are, say experts.

Don McNeil, president of Apex Restoration, a Madisonville firm that specializes in damage repair and restoration for insurance companies, said, “I’ve been in this business for 15 years and never seen as much damage this widespread. We’re calling it a dry hurricane.”

“We’ve gotten calls from as far away as Akron and Lexington,” said Singler, who is past president of the Tri-State Roofers Association, a group of about 45 local roofing contractors and suppliers trying to enforce standards.

Steve Wells, who owns Overhead Roofing Inc., said he’s hired temporary help just to keep up with the calls for estimates and repairs. “Our voice mail system can handle about 60 calls and every morning by 9 or 9:30, it’s full,” he said.

This time of year, Overhead would normally get 20 calls on a busy day. But since the storm, Wells said, “We’re talking to 150 to 200 people a day and that doesn’t include the people going to voice mail or who just hang up because they can’t get through.”

While roof damage is the most extensive, repair specialists, are seeing other types of damage as well.

Apex, which also has offices in Columbus, Springfield and Dayton, normally gets about 40 to 50 calls a week. Since the storm, McNeil said the firm has gotten more than 600. “We’re also seeing trees into houses, fences blown down, pool liners ripped, screened porches and pergolas blown away, an assortment of wind damage,” he said. “We had one house with four trees on it, the smallest of which was 80 feet.”

Apex, which frequently acts as the “eyes and ears” for insurance companies, tends to get the most severe damage cases, said McNeil. He estimated the average claim his company is seeing ranges from $8,500 to $9,000.

“The blessing here is that it hasn’t rained,” said Molloy, giving roofers the chance to cover roofs with tarps or roofing paper to protect the damaged areas from water damage until they can come back and make permanent repairs. . In most cases, roofers say they’re practicing repair triage, taking care of the most severe cases where bare wood is exposed first.

“If it’s just a few shingles missing, it shouldn’t be a problem in the short run,” said Molloy.

“What we do when we get a call is go out and make the roof weather tight,” said Singler, “We tell people if they find somebody to make the permanent repair before we can get back, go ahead. We just ask that they give us the tarp back.”