Texas Storm Recovery: Stories “From The Frontline”
Published on April 19, 2021 by Nate Bortz
Last month, we wrote about how Plumbers Without Borders (PWB) organized a massive effort to bring plumbing supplies and volunteers to help Texas families recover from February’s devastating winter storm. While that blog was intended to bring more awareness to the volunteer effort, in this one we’ll focus on the current situation and the stories of those who answered PWB’s call for help.
Current Situation “On the Ground”
Before we get into the stories of plumbers across the nation who have helped in Texas, it’s important to remember that although it’s been nearly three months since Winter Storm Uri, the recovery effort hasn’t slowed down. Here’s the experience of just one Austin, Texas-based plumbing contractor.
Brad Casebier, owner of Radiant Plumbing, said they had 1,300 people on a waitlist at one point, and they’re still struggling to keep up.
“We can do about 50 to 60 calls a day, and we’re still booking 300% over our normal rates. There’s not enough plumbers in Austin when things are normal. We typically run with an overage of calls, and now we have this backlog of all the normal service calls. It’s going to take us a long time to get back to normal, and we’ll never catch up without outside help.”
Thankfully for local plumbers like Casebier, outside help was already on the way.
Outside Help Arrives
PWB Executive Director Carmela DiGregorio said after the word got out that Texas needed help, people from all over the country jumped into action. About 40 volunteers—including plumbers, apprentices, helpers and family members—came in weekly waves from California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Virginia. Many drove non-stop for several days.
She also explained that most of the plumbing problems tackled by volunteers involved burst water lines—from the incoming water to the fixtures in the house—often requiring plumbers to work in very tight and uncomfortable crawl spaces. Their focus was primarily on helping the most vulnerable residents: the elderly and under-resourced, disabled and uninsured people who were without water.
“Everyone, no matter their skill set, found many ways to help, including family member-business owners experienced with dispatching and assessing work orders, who proved extremely helpful in keeping the work rolling,” said PWB President and Chairman Domenico DiGregorio.
These are some of their stories:
Retired master plumber Paul Mitchell, who spent a couple of months in the hospital recovering from COVID-19, trekked to Texas with his wife, Diane, a business administrator; their son Joel, a civil engineer; and their mechanically gifted grandson David.
They pulled a trailer on a 1,200-mile journey, loaded with thousands of dollars of plumbing supplies donated from their church, friends and neighbors. In their first week, they restored water for 120 families in a multi-unit building.
“Everyone that we met was so appreciative of the help,” Diane Mitchell says. “I just want everybody to have their water back.”
Grandview, MO-based Morgan Miller Plumbing rescheduled work and gathered monetary donations as well as donated plumbing materials before loading up a plumbing service truck. Tosha Everhart and Jeff Morgan drove to Dilley, Texas, “with enthusiasm that they would soon be able to restore water to vulnerable residents who were without water for nearly a month,” according to the company’s Facebook page.
Taylor Edwards, an apprentice plumber from Tennessee, spent two weeks working with the team from Omega Plumbing of California. When asked what he learned from his volunteer experience, he says that “there’s nothing better than lending a hand to someone who needs it most.”
Today, according to Contractor Mag, hundreds of families who lost access to water after the storm now have safe water to drink.
“While volunteer plumbers—and all plumbers in general—are still hard at work helping countless families to get their broken pipes repaired, the scope of the remaining work is mainly about the remediation of water damage,” Domenico DiGregorio explains. “Community organizations throughout the state have mobilized to help residents with debris clean-up caused by burst pipes and broken fixtures that destroyed so much of the homes’ interiors. Restoring homes to a safe, livable condition will undoubtedly take months of work yet.”
Water Mission is winding down and finishing up with the remaining volunteers, but it’s contracted with some local plumbing companies to take care of any remaining projects.
If you were one of the volunteers who worked in Texas, we’d love to hear your story! Email us here and we’ll feature you in a future blog!