Volunteers Cross State Lines to Help with Storm Repairs

AUSTIN, Texas – Homeowners across Texas have been struggling to find contractors to repair storm damage since the historic February frost.

The increase in repair needs has resulted in a lack of labor across the state, so cities are partnering with nonprofits to bring in volunteer contractors from around the country to help Texans fix their homes.

Orlando Chiacchio is one of those volunteers for Water Mission, which provides water relief during natural disasters. The New Yorker flew to Austin after hearing the news that contractors were needed.

Already out of work because of the pandemic, Chiacchio says he was already looking for something to do.

“I was like, yes, that’s a great way to have a vacation and help out at the same time,” he said.

His first job is in a mobile home in Florence, Texas, a country town about an hour outside of the city. He spends most of his time crawling in and out of the house, looking for leaks and cracks in the pipes.

“We’re just going to try to find all these cracks with air instead of water, so we don’t mess up anymore,” he said.

He works with three other plumbers from around the country who also answered the call.

William Whittington is from North Carolina and runs his own professional plumbing company. He even drove his van all the way to Austin.

“It’s my first time working on an emergency,” Whittington said.

Jake Salandanan and Michael Mitchell got into their truck and drove here together from Maryland.

The team of four consists of more than 40 contractors who were in the state for the next 14 days.

It’s all part of the partnership with Water Mission, Plumbers Without Borders, The Austin Disaster Relief Network, and the City of Austin, just to name a few.

Organizers tell Spectrum News 1 that the Central Texas region had received more than 1,200 repair requests, and that number is likely much higher now.

So far, the program has repaired hundreds of households that have been without water for weeks or months, many of which are families in rural communities like the house Chiacchio and his crew worked on.

On the day Spectrum News 1 followed him, Chiacchio was working under the house to repair a pipe when he heard the sound of running water and couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Oh, someone just flushed something above our heads. Did you hear that? ”He said.

These cracked pipes aren’t quick fixes either. It took four plumbers and about three days to fully repair the plumbing work on the mobile home in Florence.

And these plumbers don’t just fix showers and toilets, they’re in preventative medicine, as Whittington will tell you.

“If you don’t have running water and you don’t have safe sewage to drain away safely, you create an environment where many diseases can propagate,” he said.

Plumbers without limits saves lives, not just repairing pipes.

In Austin, you can request assistance by contacting the Austin Disaster Relief Network here online or by phone at 512-806-0800. If you live outside of Austin, you can request assistance through the Crisis Clean Up which serves Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties at 1-800-329-8052.

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