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Winter storm leaves burst pipes, months of recovery in its wake

The snow and ice may have melted, but Winter Storm Uri has left a flurry of busted pipes and other damages that could take several weeks to repair.

Austin Water's water leaks map is now flooded with long-term repairs across the city, and plumbers are booked weeks or months in advance as Austinites clamor to get their homes fixed.

As the city was besieged with a long-term freeze, water in pipes quickly turned to ice, leading to increased pressure, expansion, and eventually, tens of thousands of leaks.

Twitter user Colin Sullender compiled all broken water pipe reports from the Austin Fire Department's Active Fire Incidents page and found that over 2,000 calls have been made since Feb. 15. According to AFD's Twitter, the department was only able to respond to a fraction of those reports.

While some have had busted pipes since Winter Storm Uri first reached Central Texas, others are only just finding out they have damages as water is slowly trickling back into their homes. According to an Austin Water spokesperson, the department has not been able to find many leaks because of low water pressure.

With the city unable to respond to the influx of calls, many Austinites took to social media to vent their concerns, give advice and even provide plumbing services.

On Reddit's Austin page, users created a plumbing "megathread" that gives tips on at-home pipe repairs, Austin Water updates and more advice on handling the water crisis. The thread saw nearly 700 comments with similar tips, questions and links for extra help.

One user offered to help with free plumbing services to anyone in need. Others discussed melting snow in bathtubs or creating DIY contraptions to get clean drinking water. Many posts talked about the community created on the platform during the crisis, calling the page a "lifesaver" full of important tips and "camaraderie."

On Twitter, users have found that pipes are continuing to burst as water thaws.

Others are offering free temporary fixes as well.

Thousands of burst pipes have also resulted in water loss on a massive scale that has contributed to the city's current water outage. At its peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, Austin Water utility director Greg Meszaros said that 325 million gallons of water were lost.

With a sudden surge in leaky pipes and increasing demand in running water, Austin Water is still working to refill its reservoirs and bring back running water to much of the city. As of Sunday, the reservoirs are at 72 million out of the 100 million gallons needed to restore normal utilities.

Two more city zones saw a return in low-pressure running water on Sunday morning, but five of the nine are still completely dry. Austin Water said it hopes to bring back water utilities to all zones by tomorrow.

Since the city's water filtration plants lost power during the storm, Austin and many others remain under a boil-water notice for at least the next few days.Nearly half of Texas' population was under a boil-water notice at one point this week.

In addition to the city, most Austin plumbers are booked for weeks, if not months, in advance due to such high demand. Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a press conference on Saturday that repairs could take a month to address, and phony plumbers are a secondary issue that could occur as services remain scarce.

"My guess is that there is an extreme need for plumbers, and that it sounds like we're at least a month out from everybody having their things fixed," Brown said. "I would also caution that in times of disaster like this, it is very common for people to claim that they are a plumber, or that they can rehabilitate your house, but they're really just trying to take your money."

The spike in burst pipes, the citywide loss of water and power outages during the winter storm has left many to question what changes need to be made to the city and state's infrastructure as both face many uncertain weeks of recovery.


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