Area couple says Texas devastation will last for months

Paul Mitchell, who lives in Cedarville, traveled to Austin, Texas to help Texans get their water back on after the state's big freeze in February. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Paul Mitchell, who lives in Cedarville, traveled to Austin, Texas to help Texans get their water back on after the state's big freeze in February. CONTRIBUTED

A Greene County couple who spent several weeks in Austin helping people with plumbing problems described the devastation they witnessed following a winter storm in Texas as “incredible.”

“In a normal disaster, you generally see it externally. You drive up and say ‘oh this is a disaster, it’s obvious there was a disaster.’ But these disasters were inside the homes with frozen or burst pipes on the interior of the house,” said Paul Mitchell, a Cedarville plumber. “You drive up and the whole neighborhood looks just fine. It doesn’t really strike you immediately.”

Paul Mitchell, 73, and his wife Diane, also 73, drove thousands of miles pulling a trailer with all the supplies they thought they would need to help people in Austin.

After three winter storms swept through Texas, many were left without power in colder-than-normal temperatures. The outages lasted days for millions of Texas homes, and millions more lost water as water treatment plants shutdown and miles of pipes burst across the state, the AP reported. About 70 people died from causes linked to the power outages, like hypothermia and house fires.

After the power came back on in Texas, water still wasn’t working for many and the Mitchells said Austin neighborhoods were hit hard.

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The Mitchells went to Austin with a group called Water Mission, which is based out of Greenville, North Carolina, and Plumbers Without Borders. Plumbers from all over the country are in Austin right now volunteering their skills to help Texans. Paul Mitchell said he worked closely with another plumber from California while he was there.

Plumbers in Texas are “absolutely overwhelmed,” Paul Mitchell said. The national shortage of skilled trades workers, including plumbers, exacerbated the problem.

“They will never be able to get to all of their jobs, maybe within three to six months from now, so people are just desperate and plumbers are turning over their list of customers to Plumbers Without Borders and Water Mission,” he said.

The plumbing services they offered were completely free. Friends of the Mitchells’ from Cedarville University and Grace Baptist Church got behind them and helped pay for all the materials they brought with them.

Paul Mitchell, a plumber who lives in Cedarville, traveled to Austin, Texas to help Texans get their water back on after the state's big freeze in February. This is a picture of one of the homes they repaired the water system in. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Paul Mitchell, a plumber who lives in Cedarville, traveled to Austin, Texas to help Texans get their water back on after the state's big freeze in February. This is a picture of one of the homes they repaired the water system in. CONTRIBUTED

“If you don’t have water, you don’t have hygiene, you don’t have life,” Paul Mitchell said.

The first week they were there, they helped 120 apartments and homes get their water back up and running. When they got to Austin, they had no idea what kind of plumbing they would be working on. Paul Mitchell and other plumbers worked on trailers, apartment buildings single family homes. Diane Mitchell said she served as a “go for” between the work site and the trailer.

“Sometimes the leak was obvious because the drywall was down, sometimes it was not obvious and you had to turn it on and wait for water to come flowing out from underneath the baseboard,” Paul Mitchell said.

The majority of people had been living in these residences without water for weeks. At one complex, the Mitchells observed people taking pots and pans out to the community pool and scooping water out so they could flush their toilets.

“Some had jerry-rigged outside spigots on the water system so they could come down and fill pitchers with drinkable water potable water,” Paul Mitchell said.

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Diane Mitchell said some days it was “a little disappointing,” because the plumbers who came there only brought certain equipment and supplies but wanted to be able to help everyone. Some trailer parkers had galvanized pipe, which the plumbers weren’t prepared for, so they had to create an outdoor spigot instead.

Paul Mitchell is retired from Cedarville University and Diane still works in the physical plant office at the university. They returned last weekend.

“When you realize how much compassion Christ has had on us, it’s very hard to not want to share it with others,” Paul Mitchell said. “God has given us both good health. We survived COVID and came through and on the other side with good health and there are those who did not survive. (I believe) God brought us through for a reason.”

How to help

To volunteer as a plumber in Texas, visit plumberswithoutborders.org.