In Houston, the heroes now arrive with plumbing tools

While power went down not just in Houston but across the country in the deadly winter storm when the Texas power grid went up in the arctic cold, power was restored to most homes and businesses in a matter of days. However, water supply remains a problem for tens of thousands – a number that is only slowly falling.

Watts has been a licensed journeyman plumber for nearly three decades. He started in Las Vegas and Colorado and has worked with John Moore Services, Houston’s largest plumbing company, for the past 14 years. Tall, lanky, and driven, he’s had 104,000 miles on his company truck since mid-2019. He wears an American flag mask and two IDs on his shirt – one with his Texas State Sanitary License and the other with his ID card.

“The last person you’d like to hear say I’ve never seen anything like it is a plumber,” he admitted during another long day of service calls. There was a grandmother with a potentially catastrophic leak in her attic, a police officer and his wife returning home after having a child.

“Yeah, it’s been really wild here for a week,” said Watts. “That was historic. . . nothing I saw in Texas. “

He usually goes to work at 7 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t quit until 8 p.m. or later. Its stops since the storm ranged from shattered houses that resemble wetlands with soaked carpets to those that only require turning a screw to unlock the flow of water. Customer after customer greeted him with a cry of happiness and an exhalation of relief.

His first assignment on Monday was Willie and Dianne Hunt’s home in Greenwood Forest, northwest Houston. It reeked of mold and mildew. The air buzzed with above-average industrial dryers in every room.

“We left the house a week ago on Monday because we lost the electricity and it got very cold here. We went to my daughter, ”said Dianne Hunt. “I came back Wednesday to check and the pipes burst and water gushed out of the attic. The entire first floor was flooded and water spilled from the house onto the front lawn. We lost everything – photo albums, books, furniture, my homemade porcelain dolls. I just sat down and cried. “

In the kitchen, Watts pulled back a square of damp drywall and found “a whole mess of cracked pipes.” Over the next two hours, he replaced the most critical ones, turned on the main valve and restored the water to the Hunts and some level of normalcy. He then had a John Moore plumbing crew contact them. Your project will be a large project that will require a complete pipe replacement. The earliest available date? March, 15. Even so, the retired couple was grateful.

“That’s why I love my job – I help people. I know people are upset and think their home will never be the same, ”he said between stops. “I assure you that your home will be repaired and that life will return to normal. If the house is damaged, then there is nothing I can do that renovation companies and contractors have to do. But I can get their water back so they can take a hot shower and wash their dishes. Just having a shower at home is a huge relief. “

Watts, 49, originally planned to become a massage therapist until “some old Las Vegas folks told me to learn how to be a plumber. I came to Houston to make money because of the economy. There’s more work here. “

How popular is he these days? People stop his truck and ask him to work on their houses. Or they offer to buy parts from the back of his truck. He says sorry, this is against the rules. Watts also needs these parts for his work. Then there are old friends who suddenly remember what he does for a living and blow up his phone.

“I get calls from people I barely know who ask if I can come to their home and fix their broken pipes,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Dude, I haven’t heard from you in years. Call the office and put yourself on the list. ‘I tell everyone that, put yourself on the list. “

Ah, the plumber’s waiting list. Licensed plumbers currently have thousands of waiting lists for their service, which means it can take weeks, if not a month, to hit the curb. Watts urges people not to hire anyone knocking on the door, claiming to be a plumber who can start work that day. His other advice: “Never pay in cash and never pay the entire bill in advance.”

“There are a lot of so-called plumbers who fly into Houston at night,” he said.

Most of the state’s broken pipe crisis was caused by inadequately insulated homes with exposed pipes. As soon as the power went out, these pipes were exposed to arctic temperatures from the outside without being protected by heat from the inside. Watts estimates that properly wintering a home in Houston would cost about $ 5,000 – “that’s a safe number.”

Especially at times like these, he tries to calm down when he arrives. “While it is sometimes heartbreaking to walk into a house and see really bad destruction and people who believe their world is going to end, I try not to interfere emotionally. I can’t let them see me like this. I’m here to help you feel better, ”he said. “Most of what I do is fix sanitary ware, but a lot of me are your shoulder to cry on.”

Perhaps the easiest task of Watts’ Monday was for Rinda Patton. A neighbor had shut her outside valve earlier last week when the temperatures dropped, and the elderly widow needed the plumber to reverse that.

Patton loved the prospect of showering at home instead of at the neighbour’s and excitedly explained the photos in her living room. “This is my sister and I with Meredith Vieira when we were on the ‘Today’ show in New York,” she said. “Here is a photo of my brother-in-law, Gene Cernan. He was the last man to walk on the moon. This is my granddaughter who plays beach volleyball. “She only let Watts go after thanking him extensively.

He brought his tools back to his truck and checked his tablet for the address and instructions at his next appointment.

“Yes, these days are busy, but it’s satisfying to know that I’ve saved people from fear for their lives. I do it so that they can stay in their homes, ”he said. “The thing that bothers me – no matter how many houses I reach, there are so many people who are fighting and who I cannot reach. All I can do is tell them to get on the list. It will take a while but I will reach you. “

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