What a Texas plumber faces now: a state full of pipe burst

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HOUSTON – Randy Calazans is one of the hottest products in Texas right now. He’s a plumber.

The winter nightmare that swept across the state last week cut power and heating to millions of homes that were never designed for freezing temperatures. Across the state, people have been driven from their homes or have returned to find them severely damaged by pipes, valves and tanks that have frozen and burst.

So when the snow started to defrost and the sun made a coveted comeback, plumbers were suddenly like roofers after a hurricane: everyone seemed to need them all at once.

At One Call Plumbing, the plumbing company where Mr. Calazans works, employees answered phones nonstop in a small office with large maps of Houston on the walls. Owner Edgar Connery said he had been in the business for almost 40 years and had never seen a crush like this after other natural disasters. Some other businesses were so overwhelmed that they stopped answering the phone.

Mr Calazans returned to the field on Thursday, moving from one client’s house to another, mainly to measure the damage. Simple problems that he fixes on the spot if he can. But some houses will need major work and may even have to be completely redone; these should be left for the next few weeks.

Getting the materials needed to do even the simplest jobs is a growing problem, Mr Calazans said: queuing at a supply house could tie him up for hours, but when he was trying to pick up a few items at Home Depot, the shelves were bare.

“I’m literally burning supplies,” he said.

With power largely restored and temperatures returning to the ’60s and’ 70s more seasonal, Texans continued to battle the state’s lingering water crisis on Sunday. Some of the state’s tanks were refilling after being nearly emptied by all the burst water pipes, leaky hoses and faucets that were left on to prevent freezing.

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Austin was still on a boil water advisory as pressure gradually returned to normal in his water system, which was knocked out by the power outages. Austin Water said in a statement on Sunday that once pressure is restored, the water should be tested before it is considered safe to drink, which can take several days.

Houston had restored pressure to its system on Sunday morning and lifted its boil water advisory in the afternoon.

The full extent of the damage from the cold snap is still emerging, but the state already knows it needs more plumbers in a hurry. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office said the state would grant provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers and waive fees and some other requirements for plumbers with expired licenses who wish to renew them.

Mr. Calazans, 35, stressed the importance of entrusting repair work to a qualified professional, even after a disaster. He recalled with disgust some of the questionable and unconventional jobs he had encountered over the years.

“You don’t want someone to do the plumbing,” he says.

He has more experience with harsh winter conditions than many Texans. He and his wife moved from Long Island to the Houston area last June, looking for greater opportunities than they saw in the locked-down New York suburbs.

But Mr Calazans did not escape his own damage in Texas: A water pipe broke in his garage, he said, virtually flooding the space and damaging his gym equipment.

When he arrived at Jared Coyle’s home in Houston’s Cinco Ranch neighborhood around noon on Friday, the debris and insulation was in a compact pile near the garage. Pipes had burst in the house, damaging several areas, including her daughter’s bedroom and the laundry room.

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For Mr. Coyle, Mr. Calazans represented salvation. The plumber, who first visited the house on Thursday, returned with more supplies on hand to complete the repair.

“These homes weren’t built for the cold here, and things weren’t prepared for the extreme cold,” said Coyle, who moved to Houston about 17 years ago. “There’s not much you can do before you just say, ‘This is what it is, we’ll just deal with what’s going on and we’ll move on. That’s all you can do.

After large storm systems hit Texas, most of the damage is usually concentrated in urban areas like Houston and Dallas, according to Chris Pilcic, a spokesperson for State Farm Insurance based in Texas. But this time, he said, it’s everywhere.

State Farm had received about 18,900 property claims from customers in Texas as of Friday, most of them relating to frozen and broken water pipes, he said.

“With that, we’re hearing from clients all over the state,” Pilcic said. “There isn’t a single area that hasn’t been affected.”

And it’s not just Texas: more than 2,100 claims have come in from Louisiana, he said, and hundreds of other states in the storm’s path like Oklahoma, Arkansas. , Mississippi and Tennessee.

Lisa Gochman, another Houston resident on Mr Calazans’ list for Friday, said the portable electric lanterns she bought for hurricane season came in handy when the power went out during the week last in her two-bedroom condo – that is, until a water leak had collapsed. part of the ceiling of his guest room, leaving the bed completely covered with rubble.

“It’s a hot mess,” she said. “It is unlivable.”

Leaks also appeared in her bathroom and kitchen, she said, and the condo had no electricity or water. She therefore resorted to the sofa-surf for shelter, hoping to eventually move to a hotel or short-term rental.

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“I’m trying to sort of get into it,” said Ms. Gochman, who has lived in the condo for almost 11 years. “I cried several times.”

Before reaching One Call Plumbing, she said, the first availability she could find online for an upcoming plumber was April 22.

After climbing into Ms Gochman’s closet to look in the attic, Mr Calazans said it was possible that there were even more leaks, but that he would not be able to tell until the water would not be restored. The whole place will have to be redone overnight, he says, at a cost of about $ 10,000.

Ms Gochman said she expected a figure like this, but was unsure how much her insurance would cover.

“It’s not even to fix my place,” Ms. Gochman said. “I still have to make the carpet, fix the wall. The total amount will likely be $ 20,000 to $ 30,000. “

Mr Calazans said it was not unusual to arrive at a job hoping to tackle a minor problem, only to find that much more was wrong. This is what happened in a house in the Bellaire section on Friday afternoon: a burst pipe revealed another, then more leaks in a pipe embedded in a stucco column. He couldn’t do it all in one visit, after all; he should come back another day.

He said he expected life to be like this for him for the weeks to come: a long 10-hour workday filled with repairs on top of repairs on top of repairs.

“That’s the nature of the business,” he says.

Lucy tompkins contribution to reports.

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