What can happen when a large water pipe explodes

Water utility officials say they’re concerned that the 54-inch pipe in southern Prince George’s County that has shown recent signs of weakening could burst at any time.

Here’s what can happen when such large pipes burst with an explosive force.

In December 2008, a large pipe beneath River Road in Bethesda blew apart, sending a torrent of frigid water cascading down the road several days before Christmas.

Motorists were stranded in their cars before police in a helicopter and firefighters in boats could rescue them. One motorist said it felt like a tsunami as water carrying rocks and branches rushed toward her and crashed over the roof of her car.

In January 2011, another large main break blew out the walls and doors in a Capitol Heights office park near the Capital Beltway. The icy water reached the Beltway, requiring the highway to be closed temporarily, and destroyed a church and two businesses.

Because the pipe burst around 4 a.m., no one was in the office park. However, overnight workers at a nearby postal facility said it sounded like a bomb blast.

A property manager for the complex said it looked like damage from a hurricane.

The force of the water overturned vehicles in the parking lot, smashed windows and tore doors off their hinges.

Some water mains fail in a predictable way. Find out how.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have had nine major pipe breaks since 1996. No one has been seriously injured in any, WSSC officials say.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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