End of deep freeze brings bursting pipes

Jan. 10, 2014 @ 06:30 AM

Weather that lingered in the single digits early this week led to frozen pipes and, after the thaw, to water damage at homes, churches and businesses all over Caldwell County.

At SERVPRO of Alexander and Caldwell Counties, phones have been ringing off the hook since Tuesday, marketing director Kate Wight said. Customers are reporting burst pipes all over the home, from kitchens to attics.

“About 4, 5 p.m. (on Tuesday), the floodgates just opened,” Wight said. “It was unreal.”

The late-afternoon timing of the calls makes sense because the damage to pipes comes not when the water in them freezes but when the ice begins to thaw and expand.

Jesse Woods, the owner of Woods Plumbing and Drain Clean in Lenoir, said burst pipes are all his team has worked on since the Tuesday afternoon, and that the work has often stretched until midnight.

“The calls didn’t start coming in on broken lines until after about 1:30,” he said. “I had some calls of frozen water first thing that morning, but most of the calls didn’t come in until about 1:30, in the time it actually took to thaw.”

At Temple Baptist Church in Lenoir, a pipe burst in the sanctuary, causing a downpour that left hymnals and floors soaked.  

Around 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, a pipe burst at Fatz Café just over the restaurant’s circuit breakers, causing a lunchtime evacuation and a loss of power. There was no permanent water damage – the pipe burst in an area with cement floors – but the restaurant was closed for the rest of the day, and the breakers had to be replaced.

“It was expensive and messy,” Service Manager Melissa Wescott said. “I’m just thankful that we’re open today.”

The “polar vortex” that put the country in a deep-freeze this week has led to widespread bursts and breakages. News organizations from Indiana to San Francisco have reported breaks in homes, businesses and schools. And in Charlotte, a sprinkler line burst at CMC-Mercy hospital, leading to the relocation of eight patients.

Because the extreme cold was so widespread, that led to some shortages of equipment, said Randy Williams, owner of the local SERVPRO franchise. Typically, it’s easy to borrow equipment from other franchises – but that’s not possible when most of the country has drastically plunging temperatures.

"This event is unprecedented in the history of SERVPRO," Williams said. "There are no resources available for extra drying equipment east of the Mississippi."