‘We want to help them get their lives back,’ one contractor says


Even as he was stuck at home on Aug. 28, Jim Michael, general manager of the Houston branch of Roto-Rooter, was anticipating the rebuilding effort his firm would be helping customers with in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. That’s what is currently happening, but while Harvey was still dumping record amounts of rain on the Houston area, Michael and his plumbers were as limited in their abilities as most people.

“There is no getting away — the roads are closed everywhere and there is water everywhere,” Michael said in an interview on Aug. 28. “We can’t get out there right now. It’s just too dangerous. We’ve had up to 30 inches of rain in some areas and there are areas that have up to 15 feet of water.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls — not a ridiculous amount — because people are more concerned about their safety and their house at this point,” he added. “We had one technician who was able to provide service in the area where he lived. Other than that, we can’t do anything. I can’t check up on him because I have no Internet service and no power. I’ve been text messaging people. We’re telling people who call us that we can’t get anywhere right now. People are pretty desperate and some people who work for me have over 2 feet of water in their own homes. We’re probably going to have to ask for help from our other branches as we’re going to be overwhelmed. A lot of customers will need our help.”

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Keresa Richardson, CEO of Houston-based Lawton Group, which does residential plumbing via Ben Franklin Plumbing and Lawton Commercial Services for businesses, was in the same boat as Michael on Aug. 28.

“There is not much that we can do right now,” she said in an interview that day. “Houston is in a low-lying coastal area. Many of the roads are underwater and authorities are asking people to stay home and not get on the roads. We’re taking the names and phone numbers of people who call us and telling them that we’ll try to get to them and help them, but we can’t go to the flooded areas. Fortunately our call center is located in an area that is not flooded, and our guys operate on tablets, so we’re in touch.”

The firm was able to help some commercial customers as two of its trucks were on the road.

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“We’re not even able to get to our offices to determine the damage that has occurred,” said Richardson. “All of the calls coming in for the commercial side are being dispatched from home. We’ve had at least two employees who lost their homes and we want our employees to stay home and look after their families — safety comes first.”

She said clients were being advised to film and take photos of the damage to their homes and businesses to help out with future insurance claims.

Now that the long cleanup process post Hurricane Harvey has commenced, helping customers who have flood insurance with the filing of insurance claims is a big part of what Roto-Rooter is doing. Company technicans are preparing damage assessments for customers. Michael says he anticipates that Roto-Rooter will be replacing a lot of water heaters. Nearly every home and business in the Houston area is on a slab and does not have a basement. Many water heaters are placed in attics, which could potentially put them above the high water mark, but many are also placed in garages, which puts them directly in the flood area.

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“My guys are anxious to get out there and help our customers rebuild. We want to help them get their lives back,” Michael says.

“We will do whatever it takes to repair homes and businesses,” adds Richardson. “Natural gas is a large part of this as plumbers are the ones in the state of Texas who can work on natural gas and propane, so making sure that homes are safe and that there aren’t any fires is important. The homes have to be structurally safe.”


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