A historic Texas cold snap left millions of residents without power in freezing weather, many of whom will soon face costly flood damage even as rising temperatures offer a break from the cold.
Reports of frozen and burst water pipes in homes and businesses in Texas are rife, and the impending thaw could open the floodgates wider – literally, experts said.
“It’s going to be crazy down there for a while,” said Paul Abrams, director of public relations at Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Water Cleanup. “I would bet it’s pretty similar to the effects of a hurricane.”
In parts of the country that typically get freezing cold, the walls are thicker and more insulated, and the pipes can be several feet underground or run through a basement to protect them, Abrams said. In Texas, where pipes are usually weathered to withstand the summer heat, there are more pipes on outside walls or in attics.
“This is one of those things that doesn’t happen very often down there,” he said. “But boy, if it does, the damage hits hard.”
Although burst pipes won’t flood the streets like a storm like Hurricane Harvey did, they will cause significant damage to homes and businesses. As soon as thawed water flows through the pipes again, they will leak, plumbing experts said.
In Austin, pipe leaks – both in the water system and in homes – have been blamed for persistent water outages in the city.
Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, Austin Water saw 325 million gallons leak out of the system. Residents typically consume about 100 million gallons per day.
“That’s an incredible amount of water and nothing I’ve ever seen at this speed before,” said Greg Meszaros, director of Austin Water. One night, water could leak out of our system. “
The Insurance Council of Texas, a not-for-profit trade association, said the number of frozen and burst pipe claims “will be different from any other incident the state has seen.”
Many in the state, including Governor Greg Abbott, have drawn comparisons with Harvey, who caused $ 125 billion in damage, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Camille Garcia, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, said that while the comparison is not “apples to apples” because Harvey did not hit the entire state, “this event will certainly rival Hurricane Harvey and other events, unfortunately all are.” too often in this state. “
The problem is that homes with no electricity may have been below freezing for days this week, said Travis Sewell, a licensed plumber in the Dallas-Forth Worth area at bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.
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If the house freezes and water does not flow through the pipes, the pipe and the water in it can freeze and expand, building up pressure and causing cracks. Once the water is back on and flowing down pipes, the full extent of the leaks become apparent, Sewell said.
“I think it’s a lot bigger than people think right now,” said Mike Mushinski, president of Bluefrog. “We talk in hundreds of thousands of households and businesses” across the state.
“Massive Failure”:Why are millions of people in Texas still without power?
In Austin, Houston, and other locations across the state, officials warned residents to boil their water because of problems with the water system.
Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the water pressure dropped because the pipes froze and residents left faucets dripping to keep the water flowing. Abbott urged Texans to shut off their water if possible, and other officials urged residents to conserve water.
Dallas wasn’t under a cooking consultation on Thursday, but officials were having issues with frozen water pipes, said Catherine Cuellar, the city’s director of communications, outreach and marketing. The Dallas Water Utilities have received ten times the number of calls they would normally get on a given day about a leak or a break, she said.
Abrams said the crews at the Roto-Rooter Houston office had about 1,300 board jobs and were waiting for help Thursday. Bluefrog’s Mushinski said the company received several hundred calls a day this week.
Abrams said he expected other plumbing companies to make unprecedented numbers of calls in a similar fashion, and it could take weeks for them to get to every home.
“It will be some time before all plumbers in these cities get this situation under control,” Abrams said.
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How to tell if your frozen pipes are cracked
If a pipe freezes, water may stop leaking from the faucet. Or faucets might stutter and spit when small amounts of water leak out, Abrams said.
According to Abrams, when a pipe is frozen there is a 50% chance it will crack and burst.
It’s hard to know for sure if you can’t pump water through the system, Sewell said.
“If it freezes and thaws and you encounter your water, you will be able to find your leaks,” he said.
The problem is made worse, according to Abrams, as pipes can break in more than one place.
“Very often it happens, ‘OK, we fixed it,’ and then there’s another one downstream,” he said.
Texas is frozen in surreal photos:Icicles hang on a ceiling fan, a frosted cactus
Cracks can be obvious when water collects on a carpet or drywall, but some are harder to spot, Abrams said.
In Texas, social media photos show icicles hanging on ceiling fans and in hallways in people’s homes.
Sewell said he and others responded to lots of frozen and broken pipes in the center of people’s homes, rather than just outside walls, to highlight how cold the homes have gotten without power.
“If you can’t keep the water moving and the warm air circulating around the house, this is the perfect storm of a problem,” Mushinski said.
Contributors: Philip Jankowski, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller