Three days after an exposed water pipe at her home froze and burst, Natalie Cruz was still waiting for a plumber.
Cruz, 35, lives with her mother, uncle, grandmother and a sibling in the Molina neighborhood. The pipe broke at 4 p.m. Monday, and Cruz’s uncle shut off the main valve.
By the time the city of Corpus Christi issued a boil-water notice on Tuesday morning, Cruz had called a local plumber to repair the pipe. The plumber assured Cruz he would make it to her house between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday.
He didn’t show. Cruz and her family have made do by buying jugs of water — when they’re available at overrun stores — and refilling them at her friend’s house (where water pressure is low and the water heater pipe is leaking, which means no hot water). Cruz’s home, at least, has electricity.
“I even told (the plumber) I understand it’s busy everywhere, and he assured us he’d get to us yesterday,” Cruz said Thursday morning. “Now he’s not returning our calls or texts, so I’m going to have to find someone else.”
Demand for plumbers has leaped across Texas this week after the winter storm caused pipes to freeze and break. With subfreezing temperatures forecast for Thursday night, the businesses were bracing themselves for even more calls.
The city of Corpus Christi began steadily increasing water flow early Thursday morning to start recovery efforts while crews continue to locate a large water main break. Water utility crews performed isolated pressure tests citywide overnight and into the morning.
In a news release, the city urged customers to conserve water while it restores the water system. The release suggested fixing water line breaks or reporting a neighbor’s water break.
But the city’s announcements likely brought little consolation to homeowners like Cruz, who have lost water due to broken pipes and are clamoring for overwhelmed plumbers.
The Caller-Times called several local plumbing companies Thursday morning; most had busy signals or automated messages saying they had high call volumes.
Sparkling City Plumbing was averaging 100 calls a day since Monday, owner Joe Callejo said. He has seen 5-foot cracks in pipes, hose bibs with holes and glued PVC pipes that popped off under pressure.
“Yesterday I was under a house fixing a pipe until 2 o’clock in the morning,” Callejo said. “We’re trying to work around the clock.”
He said he was trying to be efficient by keeping his workers in certain parts of town for a whole day — even if that meant dispatching a plumber to a nearby customer who had just called while someone else was already waiting.
“I got to take care of that person first even though they just called because of the traffic and getting parts — it’s more efficient to take care of these people now than to have them wait a little bit longer,” Callejo said. “I’m trying to work as best as I can as far as the schedule.”
He predicted it would take at least two weeks “to get everybody back to normal.”
Glen Kirkham, Coastal Bend director of marketing and recruiting for the union Plumbers Local 68, advised homeowners with burst pipes to shut off their main water valve and the power to their water heater.
The union has about 70 members in the Coastal Bend. Kirkham said he could not give an estimate of how many calls area plumbers have gotten related to the storm, adding that it was “too early to tell.” The group plans to evaluate the number early next week.
To help meet demand, Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he would issue a waiver to previously licensed plumbers who have not completed continuing education requirements in the past two years. The state will also grant temporary licenses to out-of-state plumbers.
“Everybody’s busy, running around, helping people as fast as they can,” Kirkham said. “Some of our plumbing contractors are calling me, asking for more people right now.
“It’s good that they’re busy, but it’s under bad circumstances.”
Vicky Camarillo covers Nueces County and statewide issues. See our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe.