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Plumbers, emergency services flooded with calls as pipes burst after deep freeze

POSTED: January 9, 2014 12:59 a.m.

Gainesville firefighter Heath Helrod approaches a spot where water flows from the roof of the Mega Mart off Browns Bridge Road.

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Fair Street School has been open since October, but it looked like school officials were still moving in Wednesday as the media center stood nearly empty.

“There was water all through the media center and the floor,” Principal Will Campbell said, motioning through the windows looking into the room. “I don’t know, probably about a half an inch, not including what soaked into the carpet.”

A frozen pipe burst overnight near the entrance of the building, one of many headaches for the Gainesville City Schools system as well as businesses and homes across the county coming out of a deep freeze with temperatures remaining below freezing for two days.

Tuesday had its fair share of problems, but Wednesday was a busy day for plumbers and emergency crews as temperatures rose into the 40s.

Water naturally expands when it freezes; if that water is in a pipe, it can lead to cracks.

“When the water starts to thaw, it allows (the water) to start moving again in the pipes,” Roberts Plumbing owner Scott Roberts said. “That’s where people are experiencing their leaks from, because once that water starts flowing again, the pipe is already broken and (the water) goes wherever. With the warmer temperatures we’re seeing (Wednesday), people who haven’t already found a leak are finding it.”

Roberts was scheduling visits for as late in the week as Friday and had brought in employees to work later into the evenings this week. He didn’t have an exact number of calls he had received Tuesday and Wednesday, but said it was busier than normal.

Also receiving phone calls about burst water pipes were the Gainesville and Hall fire services; over the two-day period, Gainesville received more than 30 calls for burst water pipes, according to Capt. Keith Smith.

“Some locations have had multiple pipes bust in the same business both yesterday and today,” he said.

One of those was North Georgia Community Foundation, a nonprofit on Oak Street. The building has had issues since Tuesday morning, and has mostly been without water for the better part of the two days.

“The first thing we noticed (Tuesday) was in the upper building,” foundation Vice President of Development Cheryl Vandiver said. “Water was running down the back wall from the floor level down the wall.”

Another pipe burst Tuesday afternoon, and then Wednesday morning she had to call a plumber to repair a leak that led to the flooding of an unoccupied suite overnight.

“It’s just been one thing after another,” Vandiver said. “I’m afraid there’s still going to be something else.”

Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle said Hall County Fire Services had received 22 calls involving water leaks between Tuesday and Wednesday.

“The old days of just fighting fires has evolved into an all-hazards approach,” he said. “The mission statement of the Hall County Fire Services is ‘The prevention and mitigation of deaths, injuries and property loss.’”

Even places of worship weren’t exempt from nature’s wrath, with both Gainesville First United Methodist Church and First Baptist Church of Gainesville experiencing water leaks.

“I made the comment to Bill Coates when he told me about the (First Baptist) water leak,” First United Methodist Church Reverend Terry Walton said. “I said ‘Bill, I’m sorry y’all are having all that water. Methodists don’t need that much water so we haven’t had a problem.’

“Lord have mercy, I’m eating those words this afternoon,” he said Wednesday, laughing.

A water pipe burst in the kitchen area of the Methodist church, on the main floor of the church, flooding much of that area and the classrooms on the floor below. Wednesday events were canceled as water to the building remained turned off for repairs.

Many places remain without water as repairs are completed. Smith said the city fire department is conducting “fire-watch” checks on businesses in city limits that have burst water lines with sprinkler systems.

“They will be the ‘human detector’ until the system is restored to proper working order,” Smith explained. “Fire-watch has to be conducted 24 hours, seven days a week, until the system is repaired.”

Local landlord Scotty Ball said eight of his units had problems either with completely frozen lines or burst pipes.

“Most of them had already been prepared for (the freeze) but still, the age of the homes combined with the extreme temperatures caused the pipes to freeze and burst,” Ball said. “It’s a challenge for all. It’s an epidemic all over town.

“I think the only folks happy with the current weather are the plumbers out there, because they’re probably making a fortune fixing all this stuff,” he added.

Many home and business owners were unsure how much the damage would cost. Beyond fixing the pipes, carpeting, drywall and roof repair were concerns.

The Hall County School District reported only minor issues, but along with Fair Street School, Gainesville’s Centennial Arts Academy experienced flooding from a broken sprinkler head.

Most of the schools’ modular units were without water, along with Gainesville High’s cafeteria; lunches were prepared at the nearby Wood’s Mill Academy campus and taken to the high school.

Campbell said it was fortunate the water didn’t touch anything else in the Fair Street media center besides the floor. Only four books had water damage, and one couch placed directly under the leak may be unsalvageable.

After allowing the floor to dry out, along with vacuuming up any extra water, students should get to check out books again later today.

“We’re fortunate it happened where it happened,” Campbell said. “It could have been worse.”


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