In late August and early September, back-to-back Atlantic hurricanes Harvey and Irma pummeled parts of the Southeast, including Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia.
The historic and catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, which received as much as 50 inches or more of rain in just a few days. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma demolished Caribbean communities before making landfall in Florida. At the time this issue went to print, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were responsible for 83 and 84 total deaths, respectively, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in damage.
But Harvey and Irma, as destructive as they were, also brought out the best in people, including the plumbing community, which will continue to play a vital role in rebuilding the infrastructure in the areas most affected by these storms.
The aftermath of Harvey
In the immediate aftermath of Harvey in late August, Glenn Rex, executive vice president of MCA of Texas, said he was on the phone with the organization’s Houston members and local union partners for days, checking in on members and assessing damage.
“This has been an historic event,” he said. “For four days it rained and rained. Rain totals are in the range of 35 inches to more than 50 inches in that period. Remarkably, all of the members’ offices, warehouses and fab shops are intact with no storm or flood damage, and both of the Pipefitters and Plumbers union halls, and each of the JATC facilities, are also all intact.
“I’ve been contacted by a number of peers organizations around the country who would like to contribute to the recovery,” Rex added. “I, and we, appreciate that spirit and support.”
Immediately after the storm, Glenn Fuller, president and co-owner of Texas Plumbing Supply, PM’s 2016 Supply House of the Year winner, said they were “hanging — floating — in there.” The company has four locations in the Houston area, including two in Houston and one near Hobby Airport, which was underwater during the storm. “We will be back — bigger, better, stronger,” he added.
Milton Frank of Milton Frank Plumbing & Cooling in Spring, Texas, said they were “blessed that everyone at MFP and our family [had] no flooded homes,” and all was good at his shop. And though some in the area were without electricity and water following the storm, compared with others, “we are OK,” he said.
Stepping up to help
Alicia Dover, executive director of PHCC of Texas, said the organization’s members quickly banded together to help not only their employees but the communities at large.
“I heard of members using their own boats to help with the rescue effort,” she said. “Several provided tools and other items to help. And, so many are just assisting their own employees who have been affected.”
Immediately following the storm, many PHCC of Texas contractor members’ businesses were closed, and a few were damaged by the historic flooding. Meanwhile, employers scrambled to contact and locate all of their employees and ensure their safety.
“This is huge, folks,” Dover wrote in an email update to PHCC of Texas members during the storm. “Our thoughts and prayers go to all of you in these affected areas. The fallout will be tremendous.”
“PHCC is like a family,” PHCC – National Association outgoing President Patrick Wallner added. “Everyone is always ready to help out when other members need assistance.”
Mark Baker, president of field operations for Houston-based Direct Energy, the parent company of One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, Mister Sparky Electric and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, said their employees have really come together in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“This storm barreled our city, and we’re still dealing with the aftereffects on a personal and business level,” Baker said. “However, I’m proud to say that Direct Energy continued to provide the support needed for our franchisees while also prioritizing the safety of our employees and their families. It’s a testament to our commitment to provide best-in-class customer service across our brands.”
Rex said MCA of Texas members really went above and beyond during the storm.
“Houstonians, including some of our members and their employees, were among those out there in shallow draft boats rescuing people who were caught in the rising waters, or organizing relief efforts for people displaced into the many shelters set up around the area,” he said. “We have a remarkable can-do attitude in this city. As we get past this event, I do not look for it to keep people down for long and do expect there to be great camaraderie built from it.”
Harold MacDowell, CEO of TDIndustries, a mechanical contractor with 2,400 employees across eight locations in Texas and Arizona, including 370 in the Houston area, said their No. 1 priority during and immediately after Hurricane Harvey was making sure their employees were safe and accounted for. Then, they could begin helping.
“We had 30 employees who became first responders and had to remain downtown for the first five days of the storm,” MacDowell said. “These employees stayed to help our clients with operations and maintenance of city facilities, including the George R. Brown Convention Center, which housed 10,000 refugees. We also support key city buildings like the 911 Call Center. We paid our entire workforce in Houston for the storm week since our office and jobsites were closed.”
TDIndustries Partners also began assisting customers immediately following the storm and allocated employees to the areas hardest hit.
“We’ve been working hard to coordinate efforts to have our service and facilities partners available where they are needed,” MacDowell said. “We will continue to provide engineering, construction, operation and maintenance services to the hospitals, data centers, schools and businesses to get the Houston economy going again. Our list of employees from outside Houston who want to go volunteer is growing daily.
“It’s inspiring to see how a common enemy like a storm disaster can pull everyone together and open hearts, minds and wallets,” he said, adding that while “blue skies and sunshine lift all spirits and create hope, there is a long way to go for many.”
Editor’s Note: Reeves Journal Chief Editor Jack Sweet contributed to this report.
Where to donate
Several plumbing, heating and cooling companies and organizations have stepped up fundraising efforts for their affected members, employees and communities following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. These are in no particular order, and BNP Media does not endorse any specific charity.
American Red Cross. To donate to the American Red Cross’ Hurricane Harvey and Irma disaster relief efforts, visit www.redcross.org.
PHCC’s Disaster Relief Fund. Immediately following Harvey’s landfall in Texas, PHCC activated its Disaster Relief Fund to provide immediate assistance to members in need. Donations will support members whose businesses have been disrupted by major disasters now and in the future. PHCC members may use funds to offset costs to clean up flood damage, repair or replace equipment, etc. All requests are confidential and will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis as funds become available. bit.ly/PHCCdisasterrelief.
Greater Houston Community Foundation. Donations may be directed specifically to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. www.ghcf.org.
Baker Ripley Foundation. bit.ly/BakerRipleyFoundation
MCAA Disaster Relief Fund. “Every dollar our fund receives will be promptly redistributed to those office and field employees of our member companies who are desperately in need,” MCAA CEO John Gentille said. “We are just now beginning to understand, thanks to the MCA of Houston and UA Locals 68, 211 and 198, just how many of our MCAA and UA families have had their lives turned upside down by this unbelievable tragedy. They desperately need our help, and I am confident that together we will not let them down.” Contributions to the Fund can be mailed directly to: MCAA Disaster Relief Fund, Attn: MCAA National Office, 1385 Piccard Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.
United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters’ (UA) Charitable Trust. The fund was originally established to provide contributions to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Over the past decade, the fund has continued to serve as a source of financial support for individuals and Local Unions that have suffered damages from natural disasters or other tragedies. Since its inception, more than $4 million has been raised through the UA Charitable Fund Trust to assist UA brothers and sisters experiencing hardships such as that caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Contributions to the Fund can be mailed directly to: UA Charitable Fund Trust, Three Park Place, Annapolis, MD 21401. bit.ly/UAcharitablefund.
TDIndustries’ TDCares. TDIndustries, a contracting firm with 2,400 employees at eight locations in Arizona and Texas, including Houston, is collecting money for its employees affected by Hurricane Harvey. “Anyone can donate to TDCares, our internal group that assists employees in need, by calling 972-888-9318,” TDIndustries CEO Harold MacDowell said.
Zekelman Industries. The parent company of Wheatland Tube is matching funds donated to the American Red Cross for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. “The impact and toll of Hurricane Harvey are devastating, and our hearts go out to all of those affected,” Zekelman Industries Chairman and CEO Barry Zekelman said. “For every dollar our employees, suppliers, and customers contribute, Zekelman Industries will match that amount, up to a total of $250,000.” As of Sept. 19, donations had reached nearly $190,000. bit.ly/ZekelmanRedCross.