Riding out the Storm

Virginia contractors prepare for the worst when hurricanes and strong storms strike

When Hurricane Matthew hit the East Coast of the U.S. in October 2016, Atomic Plumbing & Drain Cleaning knew it would likely have some challenging work ahead. However, the company didn’t know the storm would bring one of its most memorable calls.

The company, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is no stranger to hurricanes. Typically, Atomic Plumbing is busiest during the time after a storm hits. A brunt of the calls are relighting pilot lights that were blown out or replacing sump pumps and water heaters due to flooding.

It was just after Hurricane Matthew roared through the area that the company received a call about a water leak in the area. “This one sticks out to me,” says Paul Keane, operations and service manager for Atomic Plumbing. “It’s a pretty unique call.”

LINES COME DOWN

As the high winds whipped across the area, a homeowner’s tree fell down, taking power lines with it.

“When the live power lines hit the ground it charged the ground, and the electric charge managed to find the copper waterline to the house 18 feet below the surface,” Keane says. “It blew a small hole about the size of a pinky finger into the copper waterline.”

The power lines posed the biggest threat when Atomic Plumbing arrived. “We had to wait for Virginia Power to get the line cleared after we got on site,” Keane says. “We couldn’t do anything until that happened first.”

MAKING THE REPAIRS

After the line was cleared, it didn’t take long for Atomic Plumbing to fix the pipe.

“The water had eroded a lot of the dirt away, but we had to go in there and dig it up, and that’s when we found the hole over the top of the waterline,” Keane says. “We took care of the issue.”

At the homeowner’s request, the company replaced a 50-foot section of the pipe instead of replacing the entire 80-foot pipe. “It saved him some money and it meant we didn’t have to tear up his garden or other landscaping,” Keane says.

FLOODING BASEMENTS

Keane says before a hurricane strikes, he often sees people who are not prepared and not doing the things they should be doing in advance of a storm. Many of the calls the company will respond to are people reacting to what has already happened.

“Typically we’ll get affected by the storms after they come through,” says Keane. “Things like tidal floods or heavy rains are what we see most of our calls for after a storm because we sit at sea level.”

The company recommends to its customers that if they do have sump pumps to check them before the storm hits. Dump some water in the pit holding the pump and make sure it turns on and is working. When they aren’t working, that is when crews will run into flooded basements.

“That’ll flood basements and water will typically get to the water heaters,” Keane says. “Water heaters probably take the biggest toll. Once the control valve gets wet, you need to really replace it and not try to repair it.”

Following Hurricane Matthew, Keane says the company replaced many sump pumps.

“The homeowners found out after the fact that they didn’t work and unfortunately in some cases, the people lost their water heaters too,” he says. “Had their pump worked, the water might not have gotten that high and it would’ve saved themselves a costly repair.”

GETTING READY FOR THE STORM

When a storm is approaching, Atomic Plumbing staff will run all of the pumps they have on hand to make sure they are operational, also checking suction and discharge hoses. “We want them ready for when the storm hits,” Keane says.

“Everything is ready to go for when the calls start coming.”

Company leadership also tells its employees to prepare for long hours following the hurricane.

“We tell them to mentally prepare themselves for working long days,” Keane says. “The storm is going to come through here, it’s going to cause a lot of damage and they need to be ready to put in some hours. We tell them to figure it’s going to be bad, but if it’s not, then great. People are going to need us, people in the community, the neighborhood, are going to need us. We have to be here to help.”



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