Prince George’s emergency water shut-off: Wednesday updates

July 17, 2013

Utility contractor Pete Allen looks at an iron pipe that will replace an aged concrete water main pipe in Forestville, Md. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Residents of a large section of Prince George’s County were spared from an emergency water shut-off that was expected to last several days during the hottest period so far this summer. Officials said they found a way to divert water around a broken main.

(READ: More than 100,000 brace for pipes to run dry)

Authorities told residents to start stockpiling water in anticipation of the shut-off earlier this week. The announcement came after signs were detected that part of a major water main, which supplies at least 100,000 people, was about to fail and required immediate replacement. Service through the 54-inch main could have been out for as long as four days.

Wrapping up the live blog

With the water shutdown averted, we will be ending the live blog. WSSC technicians were able to divert water around a faulty 54-inch main, which meant they would not have to cut the water supply to more than 100,000 residents in southern Prince George’s County. Water restrictions remain in place as crews repair the main.

For the latest updates, see our main story.

Reaction: Relief, anger after crisis averted

Word from officials that the crisis has been averted was greeted with some head-shaking and disbelief, but also a creeping sense of relief.

“They keep switching it back and forth,” said Anita Pleasant, 53, who has heart disease and recently recovered from pneumonia and had been worried. “I can’t trust that, because they keep saying different things.”

But “if the water keeps coming, that would be a big break. We wouldn’t be walking around here smelling … I’ll be able to take a shower, I’ll be able to flush my toilets, I’ll be able to wash my clothes.”

The former cashier at the Smithsonian lives in the Morningside area, just a few hundred yards from where workers rushed to build a new gravel road to reach the damaged pipe that caused the warnings and have been furiously digging in preparation for repairs. “If I have water to do what I have to do, like wash up, then I’ll be happy,” Pleasant said.

— Michael Laris

Reactions also flowed on Twitter:

— Russ Ptacek, WUSA9 (@RussPtacek) July 17, 2013

WSSC: Water shortage largely averted

WSSC officials said they have fixed a valve so water can be diverted from another part of the system to keep water flowing in Prince George’s County. They said mandatory restrictions will remain in effect to conserve water during the repairs.

“At this point, we should not be having a water outage in a large swath of Prince George’s County,” said WSSC General Manager Jerry Johnson during a noon press conference.”We are back to nearly business as usual,”

See the full story here.

Scene: How crews repair the main

As thousands of Prince George’s County residents faced days without water, workers at the site of the water main that caused the major outage were trying to get rid of water, not store it up.

Before they could start to cut out the damaged sections of pipe and put in new ones, they had to flush out the water still in the damaged section of the pipeline — half a million gallons of it.

With water gushing into Hensen Creek, which leads to the Potomac, at more than 800 gallons a minute starting at midnight, it took more than 10 hours.

Before that, workers had to remove trees and brush and build a road to reach the forested spot beside the Beltway where the pipe was damaged. The 500-foot road had to be one foot thick to support the workers’ equipment and required 20 truckloads, each carting 20 tons of rocks and gravel.

Lyn Riggins, the WSSC spokeswoman at the site, noted that fixing the 54-inch pipe is a complex job. A six-inch pipe that breaks in a residential neighborhood might take six hours to fix; this one will take days.

 

–Julie Zauzmer

Official: Repairs could take ‘a couple days’

WSSC officials say they likely will have a better idea by the end of Wednesday how long the water outage will last, whether it will be closer to the low or high end of the current prediction of three to five days.

Gary Gumm, the WSSC’s chief engineer, told the utility’s board at a briefing Wednesday that he expects the repairs to take “a couple days.” Repair work began Wednesday morning, officials said.

Gumm said he should know more by late Wednesday, after the pipe has been dug up and inspected.

He said he’s “hopeful” the work will go quickly. Draining the pipe early Wednesday morning took less time than expected, he said.

“Until we actually excavate the pipe and we know what we have to deal with, we won’t know when this thing will end,” Gumm told the utility’s six-member board of commissioners, who are appointed by executives in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

“We’re hopeful we’ll keep it down to the lower end of the spectrum, but until repairs start, we just won’t know,” Gumm said.

–Katherine Shaver

Photos: Images of the water shortage

Store shelves have been stripped bare in some places, crews work to repair the defective water main and at least one store has a supply of water left.

 

Long lines at grocery store in Maryland. photo: water aisle … #pgwater pic.twitter.com/rPj2cZWvXg

— wusa9 (@wusa9) July 16, 2013

 

Via @MetainTheNews: We may know by end of day estimated timeline for pipe repairs/water restoration per @WSSCWaterNews official #pgwater

— wusa9 (@wusa9) July 17, 2013

Local businesses cope with water shut-off

All trash can sales are final for the next few days at the Home Depot in Oxon Hill as customers stock up on the items to store water as the outage looms.

The Home Depot in Oxon Hill is sold out of trash cans, and only lids remain in the aisle. (Photo by Stefanie Dazio/The Washington Post)
The Home Depot in Oxon Hill is sold out of trash cans. (Photo by Stefanie Dazio/The Washington Post)

The store is sold out of trash cans — only lids remain in the aisle — and bath tub stoppers, according to managers.

“Sales were good yesterday,” said Nestor Melgar, a specialty manager.

The store has put in extra orders for cases of water bottles ($3.47 for a 24-pack of bottles) and 5-gallon drums ($12.99).

The store is hoping to get trucks of water for the plant nursery, Melgar said.

Portable toilets are outside the store for staff and customer use, manager Leon Ram said.

Shopping for a bee and wasp spray in the store, Cardell Torney, 60, of Oxon Hill said he’s filled up the bathtub and pots and pans with water, as well as purchased three 35-bottle packs of water.

The PetSmart in Oxon Hill will use water bottles, full trash cans and shipments from other nearby PetSmart locations to keep animals hydrated and fish tanks full through the county's water shortage, according to manager Rodney Williams. (Photo by Stefanie Dazio/The Washington Post)
The PetSmart in Oxon Hill is taking precautions to keep animals safe. (Photo by Stefanie Dazio/The Washington Post)

At PetSmart in Oxon Hill, manager Rodney Williams said the store will use water bottles, trash cans full of water and shipments from other nearby PetSmart stores to keep the animals hydrated and fish tanks full.

The store is limiting its grooming sessions to ones without water, he said.

The store will probably close between 3 and 5 p.m. Wednesday, Williams said, because the fire system’s sprinklers need to have water.

– Stefanie Dazio

Water distribution centers, overnight shelter

Prince George’s County has set up three water distribution points in areas affected by the water shut-off:

  • Hillcrest Heights Elementary, 4305 22nd Place, Hillcrest Heights
  • Thurgood Marshall Middle School, 4909 Brinkley Rd., Temple Hills
  • Oxon Hill Elementary School, 7701 Livingston Rd., Oxon Hill

The distribution centers will be open noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and daily until water service is restored. Residents are limited to two gallons per person and must bring their own water containers, county officials said.

In addition to cooling centers set up throughout the county, officials have opened additional locations in affected areas where people can shower and cool off. These centers are open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily until water service is restored:

  • Stephen Decatur Middle School, 8200 Pinewood Dr., Clinton
  • Friendly High School, 10000 Allentown Rd., Fort Washington

One overnight shelter has been set up:

  •  Wise High School, 12650 Brooke Lane, Upper Marlboro

Water may last longer than expected

WSSC officials say conservation efforts overnight and Wednesday morning will allow water service in southern Prince George’s County to last “several hours longer” than previously estimated. Utility officials previously projected water supplies to last until early afternoon.

– Katherine Shaver

 

Oxon Hill IHOP closed due to water shut-off

The IHOP restaurant in Oxon Hill was shuttered Wednesday morning, having closed Tuesday in advance of the water shut-off, but manager Diane Hudson is calling for water tankers from as far away as North Carolina and Tennessee so the pancake house can re-open.

“It’s just a bad situation,” Hudson said, leaning against the restaurant’s doors, which bore a sign explaining the closure. “I wish we had even more time to prepare.”

The restaurant serves between 200 and 500 customers each day, Hudson said, which translates to $4,500 to $5,000 lost each day it has to close. Staff depend on their tips as well, she added.

“I don’t know too many businesses that can afford to take a hit like that,” she said.

Hudson said she normally has to worry about problems with Pepco and power outages.

“But the water is something different,” she said.

“Running water is vital to a restaurant,” she added. “We can’t operate without it.”

– Stefanie Dazio

Cooling centers to open at 10 a.m.

Prince George’s County has set up cooling centers to help residents cope with the heat and the loss of water service. The centers will operate from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Use this map to find an open cooling center in your area.

Water could run out by midday in Prince George’s

As of 7:30 a.m., water was continuing to flow, said WSSC spokesman I.J. Hudson.

The damaged pipe was shut down around midnight, he said. If people conserve as directed, Hudson said, the water in the system should last 12 to 14 hours, meaning people in the affected area should have water until about noon or 2 p.m., he said. However, he said, that is only an estimate.

By early morning, the 54-inch pipe had been drained. Pure Technologies, the WSSC’s Columbia-based consultant, was working to pinpoint the location of the main’s broken reinforcing wire. It was the sounds of the wire beginning to snap from corrosion in the past several days — the “ping” sounds were picked up by fiberoptic cables in the pipe — that had alerted the utility to the fact that the large main was on the verge of bursting,  WSSC officials said.

After the weakened area is located, crews will begin excavating the pipe and cutting out the damaged section, Hudson said. After that section is replaced, that part of the system will need to be refilled and flushed out. Then water tests will be conducted to make sure no contaminants seeped in, he said.

Hudson said water usage spiked Tuesday evening, as people rushed to water lawns and take showers before the mandatory restrictions kicked in about 9 p.m., but was “relatively low” overnight.

– Katherine Shaver

Heat wave continues

The heat wave is expected to worsen slightly today, with code orange air quality to accompany the heat and humidity.

Capital Weather Gang forecasts mostly sunny skies, moderate to high humidity and highs in the mid-90s. The afternoon heat index, factoring in the temperature and humidity, is expected to reach 100 to 105 degrees.

While these conditions are typical of D.C.-area summers, the timing is unfortunate, given the water restrictions in Prince George’s County.

Some summer school programs canceled

Prince George’s County Public Schools announced that the following summer programs will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday due to the impending water shut-off:

  • Andrew Jackson Academy
  • Benjamin D. Foulois Academy
  • Benjamin Stoddert MS
  • Bradbury Heights ES
  • Concord ES
  • Crossland HS
  • District Heights ES
  • Forest Heights ES
  • Forestville HS
  • Glassmanor ES
  • Imagine Andrews Public Charter
  • Imagine Foundations at Morningside Public Charter
  • Imagine Lincoln Public Charter
  • James Ryder Randall ES
  • Jessie B. Mason Regional
  • Overlook ES
  • Oxon Hill Staff Development Center
  • Panorama ES
  • Potomac HS
  • Princeton ES
  • Samuel Massie Academy
  • Skyline ES
  • Suitland ES
  • Suitland HS
  • William Beanes ES
  • William Hall Academy

The make-up day for ESY and High School Credit Recovery summer programs will be next Friday, July 26. There will be no make-up day for Title I or other summer programs.

Mandatory water restrictions now in effect

Tens of thousands of Prince George’s County residents and business owners are waking up to mandatory water restrictions this morning. Water service is expected to be completely shut off sometime Wednesday.

Although homes and businesses still have running water, the WSSC is asking people to use water sparingly. This means taking shorter showers, limiting faucet use and refraining from flushing the toilet after each use.

Additionally, residents and business owners are being told to not water lawns or plants, wash cars or add water to swimming pools. Use of washing machines and dishwashers should also be delayed.

Guest bemoan truncated holidays at National Harbor

The Post’s Michael Laris reports from National Harbor, where disappointed guests are packing up and heading home.

At Gaylord National Resort, a steady stream of guests cut their stays short. Visitors from Texas, Indiana and Kentucky were among the thousands in town for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Conference. Hotel staff told them the water would be shut off at 9 p.m. Tuesday, though it might last through the morning.

There was disappointment at truncated plans.

“It sucks,” said Duan Martin, 32, a case manager for a drug court program in Fort Wayne, Ind. “We were supposed to leave Thursday.”

Instead, they were headed for the airport Tuesday afternoon. He hadn’t been to Washington since he was a school kid, and he and others had planned a trip to the Capitol while in town.

“It’s beautiful, though,” he said of the hotel. Hotel staff declined comment, and directed questions to an offsite spokeswoman who did not immediately respond.

Amid the tumult there was some contemplation.

“It’s amazing how tenuous everything is sometimes,” said Eddy Coleman, a circuit court judge in Kentucky’s Pike County, adding that he felt bad for the broader community left without water. “You think about the people who live here.”

He and his wife decided to jump in the car a day before their planned Wednesday check-out and start their drive home.

“You can’t expect people to want to stay in conditions like that,” said Frances Coleman. Still, she said, “I feel really bad for the businesses. The restaurants were doing really well this week.”

The couple has dined on sandwiches, Chinese, and seafood in the immediate neighborhood, and were planning on taking a water taxi to Alexandria on Tuesday night, where a restaurant may have water.

The hotel didn’t charge them for the room they weren’t going to sleep in Tuesday.

Eddy Coleman managed to find a touch of humor in the sudden downgrade of their luxury accommodations and the fates that have befallen those on cruise ships experiencing outbreaks.

“I thought about staying in case I ever had to take a Carnival cruise. It would be practice,” he said.

Randa Bruce, a juvenile probation officer, checked out a day early as well to avoid “the craziness.”

She was headed to the airport to return to San Antonio.

“It’s going to be a zoo in here tomorrow with everybody trying to get out of here at the same time,” she said.

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