Norwich social workers helping residents with frozen, burst pipes

Icicles form on a bench and at the end of a pier Tuesday along South Beach in Groton Long Point as the sun sets on another cold day.
Icicles form on a bench and at the end of a pier Tuesday along South Beach in Groton Long Point as the sun sets on another cold day. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich - Norwich Human Services social worker Mary Bartlett has been busy over the past week helping residents deal with frozen and burst pipes.

Bartlett can honestly tell families that she knows what they are going through. Plumbers were at Bartlett's own house Tuesday repairing at least three leaks - including one behind a wall - from burst pipes that froze when her gas furnace pilot light went out.

Norwich social workers and building inspectors have been scrambling this week responding to several incidents of frozen or burst pipes in apartments and houses throughout the city.

"(Monday) within an hour, we did three of them," said Lee Ann Gomes, social work supervisor. "It was just crazy."

On Tuesday, Assistant Building Official Greg Arpin responded to two more calls, including one break from an outdoor faucet that dumped 4 feet of water into the basement at 267 Central Ave. Although the furnace was flooded, the tenants on the second floor have electric heat and were OK, Arpin said. A nail salon they operate on the first floor was closed.

At 55 St. Regis Ave., a second-floor resident went on vacation and turned off the heat. Pipes burst and flooded the first and second floors. A third-floor resident also was displaced because the power had to be shut off, Arpin said.

At 314 Central Ave., two people were displaced Monday when pipes burst in the apartment, Gomes said. The house is owned by a bank, which agreed to pay to put them up in a hotel and repair the pipes Tuesday, Gomes said.

Nearby at 180 Prospect St. in Greeneville, a tenant thought she had run out of oil. But when the oil truck crew arrived, they quickly learned the tank had plenty of oil, and the furnace had failed. The tenant spent the night at a hotel, and the furnace was being fixed Tuesday, Gomes said.

Gomes said social workers also are keeping an eye on a man who lives alone in his house where pipes burst. The man has no heat but does not want to go to a shelter, Gomes said. He has no money to fix the pipes.

City inspectors said in unheated areas of a house or outside, water freezes inside the pipes, expands and causes cracks in the pipes. When the weather warms up or the heat is turned on, the pipes leak and burst.

Arpin said people should remove hoses from outdoor faucets to reduce the risk that the hoses and faucets might freeze and break - as occurred at one Central Avenue apartment house - and anyone going on vacation in winter should not turn off the heat.

Dealing with the cold

The bone-chilling temperatures led to a full house Tuesday evening at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center on Huntington Street.

"It's pretty tough out there with this cold snap," said hospitality center program manager Dana Dixon. "Being outside is miserable and dangerous. We're packed to the gills."

Dixon said the shelter reached its capacity of 48 people on both Monday and Tuesday and has used St. James Church for overflow. There were 11 people in overflow on Tuesday night.

Dixon said staff is doing their best to ensure all of the known homeless in the area are inside. That meant visiting the tent site of one man who typically stays outside the entire year. Dixon said they learned the man was taken in by a relative.

"There are still people living in cars. If we know about them, we are urging them to come in," Dixon said. "We still have space in our overflow. We can handle a few more people. They wouldn't be on a bed but a mattress on the floor."

The cold has also led to a spike in calls for roadside assistance. By evening, AAA's Roadside Rescue Team has responded to 1,304 calls Tuesday for emergency road service in Greater Hartford and eastern Connecticut. There were 1,743 calls on Monday.

AAA spokesman Aaron Kupec said AAA continues to see a lot of calls related to the cold - things like dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. Cold weather can reduce battery power, reduce tire pressure and freeze locks.

Sue Rochester-Bolen, senior director of emergency services for the local branch of the American Red Cross, said volunteers have responded to several fires over the past several days, and at least one may have been caused by a resident trying to thaw a frozen pipe.

She said people should be extremely careful about the use of alternative heating sources or defrosting pipes, which cause many fires during the winter months each year.

Staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

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