Plumbers have begun volunteering on Texas to help the state struggling to recover from a debilitating winter storm that has left huge swaths of severe and long-term damage to plumbers.
Texas became the center of a power and plumbing crisis when a record breaking winter storm crossed the southern and central United States in February. The state’s primary power grid couldn’t keep up with the huge demand as Texans tried to heat their homes. To make matters worse, non-winterized homes and utilities collapsed below the freezing temperatures. At one point, 14.4 million Texans were hit by burst pipes and disruptions due to the cold.
Two weeks later, around 200,000 Texans remain on cueing boiling water and 207 counties are reporting problems with the public water system, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in an email.
Paul Mitchell, 73, a plumber from Cedarville, Ohio, drove approximately 1,200 miles to assist with the Austin recovery effort.
Mitchell has never been to town and is technically retired but made the two and a half day trip with a trailer that contained $ 5,000 worth of supplies donated by his local Ohio community.
On Monday, he went to a trailer park in Austin and worked with volunteer plumbers from Kansas, California, New York, and Georgia to help local residents restore water.
“I had no idea I would be with followers,” said Mitchell, adding that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but he was ready to help where it was needed. “They gave me the address and I left.”
Mitchell volunteered with Water Mission and Plumbers Without Borders, two groups hoping to have an impact on recovery efforts in Texas.
Both groups are breaking new ground. Water Mission is a Christian organization that usually works internationally in developing countries to install water systems and provide people with access to clean drinking water.
Plumbers Without Borders is a tiny operation led by a husband and wife in Washington state, Domenico and Carm DiGregorio, who are working to connect volunteer plumbers with organizations working for better access to clean water and use sanitary facilities.
When they saw how overwhelmed the local plumbers were after the storm left a trail of broken pipes, they knew they had to do what they could to get as many plumbers as possible to Texas to help.
The DiGregorios have added the rally cry to their email list and the offers that are designed to help kick in almost immediately. They receive voluntary offers from plumbers all the way to Norway. The couple are coordinating with the Water Mission and local officials and unions in Texas to bring volunteers to work, particularly in the neediest areas.
“There’s no equipment down there,” said Domenico DiGregorio. Reports from Texas indicate that this crisis will not end in weeks but will last for months. “We’re trying to find plumbers with trucks, tools, and supplies that can go down,” he said.
George Greene IV, President and CEO of Water Mission, said while his organization normally operates internationally, “Whenever there is a need in the US we seek a role for ourselves.”
The need this time was clear. Speaking to Texas-based plumbing companies, he hears that plumbers in the state have work orders that they estimate will take six months to complete.
“There is a massive need for a specific skill set with limited bandwidth based on what is currently available in Texas,” he said, calling it a “staff shortage.”
“There was a plumbing fix that took 15 minutes,” Greene said. “In those 15 minutes they restored the flow of water to a house that had run out of water for two weeks.”
The city of Austin works with volunteers to help coordinate and provide shelter, and the groups cover travel and repair expenses while the plumbers volunteer their time.
“In our culture, plumbers are not normally seen as people who are humanists,” said Carm DiGregorio. “Plumbers across the country care for people in need and they want to share their time with people who are less well off and who do not have sufficient resources.”
It was a breeze for Mitchell to help. He and his wife both had Covid-19 and recovered in January, feeling safe traveling and knowing there was a need.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to serve other people,” he said early Tuesday morning on the way to the door and walking to another trailer park, ready for work.