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Thawing Texans face water, plumbing woes

by The Associated Press | February 23, 2021 at 4:35 a.m.
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio, left, and his nephew Hector Valerio, right, discuss how they will be making a repair to a pipe break beneath the kitchen sink in the home of Nora Espinoza, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The break required the two to work from the kitchen and from the crawl space beneath the home to make the repair. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS --Snow and ice melted across Texas over the weekend, but plumbing problems now plague the state, as the ongoing toll of last week's devastating winter storms continues to be revealed.

The icy blast that hit Texas and much of the Deep South ruptured water mains, knocked out power to millions of utility customers and contributed to nearly 80 deaths.

Many residents are unsure when they'll be able to make permanent repairs, what they'll have to pay out of pocket or even when they'll be able to go home.

Roberto Valerio, a plumber in North Texas, said the burst pipes and other problems caused by the storm had led to "big chaos."

"We can't find what we need easily," he said. "There's a great shortage of supplies."

In the Houston area, officials on Monday announced they have set up a relief fund to help cover the cost of repairs and temporary housing for vulnerable families. Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated his fiercely independent state needs help. His office encouraged out-of-state plumbers to come fix Texas pipes.

For Nora Espinoza, a 56-year-old Dallas resident, who said her home dropped to 38 degrees Fahrenheit before the power was restored and a water pipe burst Friday, it's far too little, far too late

"Your job is to protect us. That's why we voted you in," Espinoza said of Abbott as she fought tears while waiting for a plumber. "My pipes would have never burst, never, if I had power."

A rushing sound could be heard in Espinoza's kitchen Saturday night, when Valerio turned the water back on. He made temporary repairs, but said it will be weeks before he can come back to do more work and determine whether the floor needs to be replaced.

Espinoza said she fears the spread of mold may do more damage in that time and is unsure what her insurance will cover. But she nonetheless is grateful: She can take hot showers and her small dogs have emerged from the pile of blankets where they spent last week's days of frigid cold.

"I do consider myself to be very lucky," she said Monday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has delivered more than 1 million meals to Texas, the Defense Department has delivered more than 4 million liters of water and it continues to deliver water in bulk to multiple locations in the state, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. The federal government also delivered dozens of emergency generators and more than 120,000 blankets to Texans over the weekend. President Joe Biden hopes to visit Texas as early as this week, Psaki said.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMwMO3e-KlY]

Tens of thousands of people in Mississippi and Louisiana also still lacked water or had very low water pressure Monday, even with weather warming up days after a winter storm.

In Harris County, Texas, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said about $2.25 million has so far been raised to help pay for repairs and housing for Houston-area families who lack insurance or who don't qualify for federal assistance. That includes a $1 million donation from the foundation of CenterPoint Energy, the utility that provides electricity for the Houston area, she said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked area residents with the means to donate to the fund.

"Many families through no fault of their own have homes that are uninhabitable because their pipes froze during the arctic blast," said Turner.

Information for this article was contributed by Nomaan Merchant, Juan A. Lozano and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press.

CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio works on repairing a broken pipe beneath the sink in the home of Nora Espinoza, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio works on repairing a broken pipe beneath the sink in the home of Nora Espinoza, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Homeowner Nora Espinoza holds a piece of the broken pipe removed by handyman Roberto Valerio on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 in Dallas. Espinoza's home suffered multiple pipe breaks after winter weather brought in freezing temperatures last week. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Homeowner Nora Espinoza holds a piece of the broken pipe removed by handyman Roberto Valerio on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 in Dallas. Espinoza's home suffered multiple pipe breaks after winter weather brought in freezing temperatures last week. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio works on repairing a broken pipe beneath the sink in the home of Nora Espinoza, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio works on repairing a broken pipe beneath the sink in the home of Nora Espinoza, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio, left, hands homeowner Nora Espinoza the broken pipe after removing it from beneath her kitchen sink on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio, left, hands homeowner Nora Espinoza the broken pipe after removing it from beneath her kitchen sink on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Roberto Valerio Jr., left, and his cousin Hector Valerio, right, look on as homeowner Nora Espinoza test for water coming out of the faucet after a repair was made to a pipe break beneath the sink, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. Espinoza's home experienced multiple pipe breaks during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Roberto Valerio Jr., left, and his cousin Hector Valerio, right, look on as homeowner Nora Espinoza test for water coming out of the faucet after a repair was made to a pipe break beneath the sink, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. Espinoza's home experienced multiple pipe breaks during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio, left, hands homeowner Nora Espinoza the broken pipe after removing it from beneath her kitchen sink on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO VALERIO, NOT VALERIA - Handyman Roberto Valerio, left, hands homeowner Nora Espinoza the broken pipe after removing it from beneath her kitchen sink on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Dallas. The pipe broke during freezing temperatures brought by last week's winter weather. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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