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As Freeze Thaws, North Texans Worry about Cost of Winter Storm Damage

The fallout from the storm could be costlier than Hurricane Harvey
The fallout from the storm could be costlier than Hurricane Harvey
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When the storm hit last weekend, Sean Kitchen’s home in Garland went dark. His power had been out for more than 36 hours when he and his wife decided to hole up at his brother’s house in Richardson, hoping to wait out the freeze.

The storm started last weekend with snow and plummeting temperatures. Rolling power outages meant to last up to 45 minutes ended up spanning several hours. As the chill set in, many residents had to leave their homes, trying to find available spaces in hotels, warming centers and shelters.

Each day, Kitchen, 32, drove back home to check on the place. On Wednesday, he returned and found water pooling on his kitchen floor. A frozen pipe had busted beneath the sink. By the time he got the valve off, the damage was already done: the wooden floor was warped, and water had flooded into his backyard.

Like many others with storm-damaged homes, Kitchen has his fingers crossed for relief from the state and federal governments. In the meantime, he's still searching for a plumber who can make it to his house.

“I'm still going to do my best to find a plumber to fix the pipe as easily as they can," he told the Observer. “If I can get some financial relief on this, I’ll get it fixed properly. Otherwise, I'll just try to do it myself and figure it out. I’ll have to save up money because I can't just spend several thousand dollars at the drop of a hat.”

On Saturday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden had signed a major disaster relief declaration that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had requested. The move will provide broad federal aid to the storm-stricken state as authorities pivot to recovery efforts. Biden approved public assistance for all 254 counties in the state, but individual assistance will only be available in 77 counties, including Dallas County.

Biden said he is still considering the possibility of visiting Texas next week. “I don’t want to be a burden,” he told reporters. “When the president lands in a city in America, it has a long tail.”

Earlier in the day Friday, less than 200,000 people were still experiencing power outages, down from the millions who were stuck in the dark earlier in the week. But as North Texas thawed out, other problems began to emerge, including busted pipes and water boil orders affecting millions of residents statewide.

Worse still, of the 47 storm-related deaths nationwide, at least 30 happened in Texas, according to data by the Washington Post. Some died of carbon monoxide poisoning, some in car accidents caused by icy roads and others from exposure.

Tallying the damage will take a long time, but some have already predicted the storm will prove one of the costliest in the state’s history.

“We are used to our storms here in Texas with tornadoes, hurricanes and hail,” Camille Garcia, communications director with the Insurance Council of Texas, told Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “But those are regional. We are talking about an event that reached every part of Texas.”

Garcia said the storm could end up costing Texans more than Hurricane Harvey, which tallied more than $19 billion in insurance claims.

On Friday, the Texas Democratic Party shared a list of resources for those grappling with the storm's financial fallout. "No one should be going through this," the party said in a press release. "It is an outrage that our state’s leadership has failed us this way."

As of Friday, Garland City Council member Deborah Morris has already spoken to residents of nine different apartment complexes that "had major pipes freeze and break."

"The fact is when it's freezing weather and there are no plumbers to be had, they're stuck no matter how much they wish to fix it," she told the Observer.

Because the apartment complexes had to shut off their whole water supply while the pipes were being repaired, Morris and the city helped organize a water drive for locals. Several churches volunteered to deliver pallets of water to apartment complexes and residences around the city.

"Insurance is going to cover huge amounts of this," Morris said. "For individuals, we have federal money for home repair, including pipes and water damage. There is help to be had."

She added, "We're just trying to get water in their hands as quickly as possible until the repairs can be made."

For Ryan Hauberg, a 28-year-old plumber who works in the Dallas area, the phone calls started flooding in on Tuesday as water pipes erupted in homes, businesses, schools and elsewhere.

Since then, Hauberg has rushed from one house to the next. “It’s been real busy,” he told the Observer, explaining that he and his colleagues have received between 50 and 70 calls a day this week. Normally, his crew fields five or six calls a day.

“Mostly, today it's been a bunch of refrigerator lines freezing up because you can't run the water through them,” he said. “Right now we are mostly focusing on apartment complexes because … a pipe can bust in upstairs apartments and then flood the people living downstairs.”

Even as the weather warms up, Hauberg expects the damage to continue piling up. “The work that has built up will last more than two weeks,” he said. “Everything the water touches gets damaged.”

The storm had already put a dent in 34-year-old bartender Adam Mercado's wallet. He missed three days of work and tips, and with the power out at his Dallas apartment for most of 48 hours, he and his partner stayed with family until the electricity returned.

But when he got back to his apartment on Thursday, Mercado found a busted pipe in the guest bathroom and water spread out all over the floor. He shut off the water, but the already-slammed maintenance crew hasn't yet managed to come check on his apartment.

Still, he doesn't know who will be stuck with the bill. “I’m hoping the cost falls on the apartment, but that’s still up in the air,” he said. 

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