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Plumbers deluged with work in sub-zero aftermath

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Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

As temperatures plunged below zero last week and the Pittsburgh area braced for its coldest weather since 1994, water pipes inside Daphne Cafe froze.

The ice expanded, cracking the pipes in eight spots. When the weather started to warm, water gushed from the cracks and filled the upstairs dining room and downstairs kitchen of the small Middle Eastern restaurant in Shadyside.

Owner Ceyhun Erdem lost furniture, kitchen equipment and food in his freezers, and the flooding damaged ceilings, walls and doors. A disaster recovery company arrived, but a week later, “We're still trying to dry out,” he said.

The ice and snow are gone now, but hundreds of home and business owners still are cleaning up after last week's extreme temperatures caused many pipes to freeze, break and flood. Plumbers, restoration companies, inspectors and insurance adjusters are swamped with work.

Allegheny County 911 received 401 calls from Jan. 5 through Sunday about water flooding buildings because of broken pipes, meters or lines that connect buildings to water mains, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

The calls included 189 from Pittsburgh, she said.

“We were running pretty much around the clock from Tuesday to Saturday,” said Ernie Fagnelli, owner of Oakland-based Fagnelli Plumbing. “I don't think we've seen anything like this in at least four or five years.”

“I had all my scheduled work, and emergency calls on top of that, so it was all 12-hour days, all week,” said Mike Sherry, an Aspinwall-based plumber and landlord.

“If there was one little piece of insulation missing near a pipe, that deep freeze seemed to find it,” said Harold Katofsky, franchise owner for ServPro of Metro Pittsburgh, East and South Hills, which has gained about 150 customers in the past week and brought in workers from other franchises in Michigan and Idaho to help.

“It's been a lot of hard work, and a lot of emotionally draining conversations when you're talking to people who have lost everything in their basement, like photographs, furniture, wedding dresses,” he said.

Panhandle Restoration, covering flood cleanup in Pittsburgh, Wheeling and Morgantown, has responded to about 550 calls in the region since Jan. 7, including houses, hospitals, dormitories and one Wheeling office building that had eight floors damaged by a broken pipe, said Josh Contraguerro, vice president of marketing.

To keep up, the business brought in help for a total of 175 employees, and bought two tractor-trailers full of drying and cleaning equipment, he said.

Most homeowners' insurance policies cover damage from burst pipes, and renters' insurance covers tenant property that might be damaged, according to Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute in New York, a nonprofit industry group. Several firms noted that insurance adjusters have been busy, trying to keep up with claims.

Insurance companies generally deny claims only if the homeowner has severely neglected maintenance, Barry said.

At Atria's restaurant in O'Hara, a pipe froze and broke above the dining area, ruining the ceiling, floorboards and some furniture, said Shelby Cole, a company spokeswoman.

“It was like a waterfall in the restaurant,” she said. Renovations to the O'Hara site should be done in four to six weeks, and employees have been reassigned to the chain's other locations.

Light of Life Mission in the North Side had to throw away about 250 bags and boxes of donated clothes when its warehouse flooded from a broken sprinkler. Donations are needed, particularly children's clothing, to replace the ruined items.

“We had a break in a pipe sometime over the weekend that didn't come to our attention until Sunday afternoon, so water had been pouring out for at least a day,” said spokeswoman Kate Wadsworth. “Our boiler room was flooded to at least chest height.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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