By Sahar Chmais
Water is flowing from every crevice except through the faucets in the Vista at Plum Creek apartments. Many residents are going into their second week without fresh water, and their apartments are beginning to smell like mildew.
Some residents hit the one-week mark before finally their water was back on. Others do not have an exact date, though the apartment management said it is aiming to have repairs complete by the end of the week.
“Our goal is to restore water to all residents by Friday,” said Tiffany Reynolds, senior regional manager for the apartment group. “We know that kinks happen but we are working as fast as possible to avoid any further water intrusion by not working systematically and restoring water without a plan in place.”
Residents’ outcries can be seen on social media; they began posting photos and videos of the flooding, with the sound of water squishing under their feet on the carpet, water going over electric boxes, soaked personal belongings and holes in walls.
Some residents are concerned about the health hazard.
Resident Richelle Lenoir said she is allergic to mold and said she expressed her concern to management.
Image of a moldy window, provided by resident Richelle Lenoir.
To help the mold situation, Lenoir set her air conditioner to 60 degrees to control the humidity. Then she began sleeping on her couch with the patio door open.
Lenoir’s guest room and laundry room have been flooded. She claims it smells like “pigs have lived here for days.”
Others are worried about what the mold will do to their kids. Sierra Gomez, another resident living in a flooded apartment who has an 18-month-old son, said she notified management about a leak in her home.
“So I called and they didn’t even ask what unit I was in, just that they will get to it,” Gomez said. “I had to leave work in North Austin to come down to the office to physically tell them. Then asked what unit once I said ‘aren’t you going to ask what unit I’m in?’”
Gomez said she could not afford going to a hotel at this time, and her family does not have room to temporarily house her.
Another resident, Joy Cuellar and her five children, have been without water for one week.
Although their apartment did not flood, they were without water for a long time.
“It is stressful,” Cuellar said regarding the challenges of parenthood without water. “How do you tell a toddler not to touch something because they can’t get their hands dirty? And one of my kids is in the middle of potty training – now we can’t do that. Wipes cost money, too.”
Vista residents have begun to seek options about where to move.
Vista apartments had 260 pipe breaks, according to management, and a total of 264 apartments are in need of inspection and/or repair. Half of the Vista apartments have had water restored throughout their six buildings.
The extensive issue is attributed to the weather plus the placement of water heaters, washers and dryers.
“Inclement weather, with the duration of time with temperatures below freezing caused damage to the water lines,” Reynolds said. “Specifically, the water heaters and washers/dryers are located outside on the patio where there is little to no insulation from the extreme temperatures. Communities that have their washers/dryers located outside are experiencing the same issues.”
Image from Sierra Gomez of her son’s bedroom ceiling.
Reynolds said that the neighboring apartment complexes in Plum Creek have their washer/dryers inside the homes, where the lines remained insulated from freezing temperatures.
In the Vista complex, when the ice began to melt and water was restored, the lines were split or compromised from the expanding water and broke, Reynolds said.
The solution to repairing the breaks was to intermittently turn water on and off. When the water is turned on, it is to identify where the leaks are coming from, Reynolds said.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, management finally opened up a model apartment to let residents take hot showers.
Vista residents are not the only ones facing the aftermath of the storm. With broken pipes across many homes, businesses and apartments in Texas, stores are running short on supplies. Hays County residents have been seeking guidance all over Facebook on where they can find pipes and materials to repair breaks.
Residents who depend on wells are also having trouble finding parts for broken well pumps and other equipment.
In the meantime, community members have found dependable shoulders to lean on – each other. Businesses have been helping out across Hays County, people have been inviting each other over for a shower and some are delivering fresh water to those in need.
Gomez spoke of the benevolence she has seen across the community.
“People at the Ariza complex offered to let people drop their clothes off,” Gomez said. “She would wash it for us and have us pick up, due to COVID. Some have offered toilet paper.”
While Gomez received help, she also found a way to give back. A family was looking for milk for their son, so Gomez gave her some. In exchange, the family helped Gomez by giving her snacks. Another woman gave Gomez drinking water. She also helped others out by giving away candles and baby wipes.
Family Elder Care has also donated water, formula, diapers, canned goods, snacks, toilet paper and more to the Vista community, Reynolds said.
The situation is continuously evolving. According to management, their goal is to restore water use for all residents on Friday, Feb. 26.
“Contractors, plumbers, electricians, and maintenance technicians are walking, inspecting, repairing every unit,” Reynolds told the Hays Free Press/News Dispatch on Wednesday, Feb. 24. “Each unit presents its own set of repairs but all repairs will be done to restore homes. Water extraction and appropriate remediation measures are being taken in every unit where it is needed.”