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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘There’s been lots of couch hopping’: Many students forced to relocate due to winter storm damage

Due+to+severe+winter+weather+last+week%2C+many+apartment+complexes+across+Brazos+County+experienced+burst+pipes+that+flooded+housing+and+displaced+residents.
Photos provided by Gabrielle Shreve and Marybeth Whitt

Due to severe winter weather last week, many apartment complexes across Brazos County experienced burst pipes that flooded housing and displaced residents.

A historic winter storm hit Texas the week of Feb. 14, leaving several communities with a multitude of problems from loss of power to severe water damage.
Among communities across the state affected by the storm, several Texas A&M students residing in Bryan-College Station faced black-outs, boil water notices and extensive water damage to their homes. The week-long freeze resulted in some of these students being forced to relocate, as their college homes underwent flooding due to bursting pipes.
While A&M’s campus did face damages, SSC Regional Vice President for Facilities Services Richard Gentry said the university prepared for a high influx of maintenance and was able to address many of the needs that occurred. Gentry said the university housed an emergency response team of 25 maintenance employees at the Texas A&M Hotel & Conference Center from Sunday through Friday. By Saturday, Feb. 20, SSC was fully staffed on campus.
“We prioritized personnel that we needed to have on campus and housed them at the hotel,” Gentry said. “Paul [Tisch, SSC resident regional manager for maintenance,] was over that group and stayed there himself, functioning as our rapid response team. We had our grounds manager and a team there, as well, that were de-icing the sidewalks, prioritizing dorms and dining facilities before moving to other areas. By Wednesday, we were clearing the streets with a front-end loader so people could get around easier.”
Tisch explained that water coils, often found in mechanical rooms, have chilled or heated water that flow through them, but when there isn’t enough water flow, these coils freeze, expand and split. Once these coils thaw, water leaks out, and often results in water damage. Tisch said although there were leaks within on-campus housing, only one dorm in the Commons, Dunn Hall, had water damage from these coils. A&M’s campus did face more serious piping problems, Tisch said, but the rapid response team was able to address most of the water problems before they became too serious.
“In most cases, we were able to get the water turned off and cleaned up within an hour or two from the time it leaked out from the damaged coils,” Tisch said. “There are a handful of buildings that burst pipes within the building had a detrimental effect. Right now we are in the process of remediating that by drying out the buildings.”
Plumbing companies within the Bryan-College Station area have felt the effects of the freeze, along with local residents. Seth Warren, apprentice technician at Curry Plumbing, LLC, said the company has been working non-stop since the roads were safe to drive on. According to Warren, the cost of fixing damaged pipes varies dramatically between pipe size and location. Warren said for a standard pipe located on the exterior of a building, it can take anywhere from one to three hours to replace, but that time increases for damaged interior pipes.
“We’ve been working sunup to sundown,” said Warren. “We’re spread really thin right now.”
Visualization junior and resident at Park West apartments Gabrielle Shreve was one of many students who had to relocate due to pipes bursting caused by the freeze. Shreve said a sprinkler pipe had burst in an eighth-floor vacant room and had been draining down through the rooms when it reached her fourth-floor unit. While Park West relocated Shreve and her roommates to a new unit within the complex, she said management was slow to reach out to its residents requiring relocation, and she was only able to have a place to stay because her mother called the complex.
“I feel like [Park West] could have communicated a little bit more efficiently because I wouldn’t have known to put my name on a list to get a new room if my mom hadn’t called them,” Shreve said. “It was a really sudden situation, and it could have been handled better on everyone’s part. It was out of the blue, so I don’t really blame anyone, though.”
Similarly, sports management sophomore Marybeth Whitt’s apartment unit at Callaway Villas faced flooding and pipe damage. Management notified Whitt that several apartments were flooding and the water would be turned off, which led Whitt to leave to get water from the store. Upon returning, her apartment was one of over 100 units at Callaway Villas experiencing flooding. Thirty minutes after calling upon friends to help clean up the inch and a half of water, Whitt said the power went out and a pipe in the bathroom burst. Whitt said she has asthma induced by mold from water damage at her previous complex and couldn’t stay in her flooded apartment for more than ten minutes without having breathing issues.
“There’s been lots of couch hopping,” Whitt said. “I just want to make sure everything is done at the apartment because so many people are dealing with this, and I don’t want to have to stay at other people’s houses the next few weeks while they fix it. With my health concerns, we need to make sure everything is taken care of correctly.”
Callaway Villas relocated Whitt and her roommate to temporary housing and provided them with meal cards for the kitchen while their apartment underwent repairs. Likewise, John Hendrix, agricultural economics sophomore and resident at The Cottages of College Station, suffered from flooding caused by burst pipes in his second-floor apartment and was relocated to a new unit.
“All of a sudden we were standing in about three inches of water,” Hendrix said. “The Cottages had at least six instances of burst pipes when it happened to us, so [management] was kind of all over the place. The next day we hadn’t heard from them, so my roommate reached out and they got us a five bedroom place for three people … It’s kind of a mess, but it’s better than three inches of water.”
While many apartment complexes have relocated residents with damaged units, entomology senior Dorothy Woods, at The London, said she faced severe difficulties with her complex’s management team. Woods said her ceiling began to drip during the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 16, which led to management turning off the water without telling residents.
Woods left the apartment to stay with friends but was unable to get a hold of management to find out what was happening with her unit. Woods said she was unable to directly contact The London from Thursday night to Sunday, and was only able to contact the answering service. Once Woods was finally able to contact management, she learned a pipe burst on the third floor unit above her and had penetrated through her apartment, leaking into the unit below her. Woods said the clearest communication she got was through the maintenance team she ran into outside of her building.
“I saw maintenance outside of my building, and they were immediately super accommodating,” Woods said. “They told me it would probably be two to three days, but weren’t sure. Now I don’t have an apartment for I don’t know how long. By the time they told me I didn’t have an apartment, they didn’t offer me a place to stay, they didn’t tell me anything. Apparently, they were supposed to be accommodating their residents, but they didn’t offer me or my roommate housing.”
Although many Aggies faced uncertainty and confusion due to the water damages caused by the winter storm, Shreve said the Aggie Network continued to do what it does best: help those in need.
“There was a lot of support from the community and people I knew,” Shreve said. “People were offering food, water and a place to stay. Aggies were really nice and supportive.”
Editor’s Note: Gabrielle Shreve is an illustrator for The Battalion.

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