Workers suffer 2-day deep freeze mending water pipes

Peak: They Got About 3 Hours Rest Over 2 Days

RIDGEWAY/WINNSBORO – It was in the morning hours of Christmas Eve that the first pipe – a 12-inch water main – broke across from the Fairfield Magnet School, producing a small icy lake.

The temperature was in the teens, whipped by freezing wind as four Town of Winnsboro water technicians braved the deep freeze to dig up the giant pipe and then work into the night to patch it. That’s hard work in good weather, and miserable, unbearable work in freezing weather. By that night, several six-inch main lines had also burst, spewing water across the north end of Winnsboro.

“We only had four men at first, then five and a meter reader and myself to turn off water and fix the lines,” said Winnsboro Director of Gas, Water and Sewer Tripp Peak. We couldn’t contract any crews to help us. They were all working in other towns where the same thing was happening,” Peak said. “It was just us.”

It was late on Christmas Eve when the men finally went home for about two hours, then came back out to finish working through the night as more mains and smaller lines burst.

And it got worse as the night wore on. By Sunday, Christmas day, in addition to several main lines and lots of smaller water lines having burst, residents were beginning to report broken pipes in their homes and needed someone to shut off their water to stem the spewing water.

In Ridgeway, Robert Arndt, pretty much a one-man crew, was facing the punishing elements to take care of the Town of Ridgeway water customers’ needs.

In both Winnsboro and Ridgeway, the towns’ water tanks were emptying and water pressure was dropping as the water gushed from busted pipes in Winnsboro which also supply Ridgeway.

“With almost 200 homes leaking water and the large mains and smaller lines losing water in breaks, we were losing about three million gallons of water a day,” Peak said. “We were processing about 3-1/2 million gallons a day during this time just trying to keep the tanks full enough to service our customers with water. But we were not being able to fill the tanks to keep the pressure high.”

As the four-five man crew was mending busted pipes, Jeff Cisney, Winnsboro’s Water Plant Director and his crew were working long hours as well trying to keep water in the tanks and lines through it all.

“I don’t know when they slept Saturday and Sunday nights,” Peak said. “Every time I called over to the plant, Jeff answered. None of these men were able to enjoy Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with their families.”

“On Monday we had the lines fixed, but the pipes inside homes broke as they thawed. We had two men working all day just shutting water off to those homes,” Peak said.

It was not until the crisis was almost over that most residents understood the enormity of the work being done by a small crew of men from the towns’ water departments and what they had gone through.

As word spread Monday night and Tuesday morning, plans got underway by citizens in Ridgeway and Winnsboro to show the communities’ appreciation to the Winnsboro water technicians (Veshawn Owens, Jesse Self, Mikey Bunting, Jawarin Jones, and Kaelen Fee), Meter Reader Isaac Boyd, and Peak who worked alongside his men round the clock Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and part of Monday, and Arndt in Ridgeway.

Sarah and George Pierce of Sarah ‘n Geo’s spearheaded an appreciation drive for the men.

“We’re donating meals here at the restaurant to the men and their families,” Sarah said. “And other donations have also come in. It’s just a way for the community to show their appreciation for these men getting the water pipes repaired under unimaginable circumstances.

“Residents of the two towns and even in the county brought gift cards, food, hand warmers, and even cash to show their appreciation. Carol Allen, owner of Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway, brought over a large gift basket,” she said.

Sarah ‘n Geo’s Restaurant, 170 S. Palmer Street in Ridgeway, was the drop-off point for donations for both the Winnsboro and Ridgeway workers until 8:30 Wednesday night.

“While this is their job, these guys were out there Christmas Eve and Christmas day, both days and nights, away from their families, working hard in miserably cold, freezing wind and water and with only about two hours rest Saturday night. It was really bad,” Peak told The Voice. “But they did it.”

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