Neighborhoods Start Day Off Dry

Utility workers try to shut off a control valve so they can go beneath 13th Street and Florida Avenue NW to see what repairs are needed.
Utility workers try to shut off a control valve so they can go beneath 13th Street and Florida Avenue NW to see what repairs are needed. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2005

A water main break early yesterday sent a wave of confusion and frustration across a wide swath of the District, causing businesses to close, hospitals to turn to emergency water supplies and the fire department to call in extra equipment from Maryland and Virginia.

And many of the thousands of deprived District residents were left longing for a hot shower.

The break in the 36-inch main, which occurred between 4 and 5 a.m. beneath 13th Street and Florida Avenue NW, left a sinkhole big enough to be able to swallow a few motorcycles and buckled the asphalt in several other spots in and around the intersection.

Restaurants and other businesses in nearby Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, part of Dupont Circle and Brookland were hit hard, but it was the five hospitals affected that posed the most urgent concern for authorities.

Children's Hospital, the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Providence Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Washington Hospital Center had emergency water supplies, but as a precaution, the District did not dispatch ambulances to the hospitals for several hours, according to an Emergency Medical Services spokesman.

Hospital emergency rooms, however, did receive some patients. Washington Hospital Center was on divert status but treated a few walk-ins in the emergency room and had a couple of ambulance transports as well, hospital President James F. Caldas said.

There were no major emergencies related to the break, said Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the city Health Department, which stayed in contact with the hospitals, the D.C. fire department and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

As a precaution, pumpers were brought in from Maryland and Virginia to ensure that D.C. firefighters would not be caught without enough water. The trucks were expected to remain in the District for at least another day, said Alan Etter, a D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman.

By 2 p.m., WASA was able to restore service to all the hospitals, General Manager Jerry N. Johnson said. All but a couple of blocks, immediately west of the water main break, were expected to be back online yesterday.

However, a second, smaller main -- this one eight inches in diameter -- ruptured in the same area about 8 p.m. yesterday, according to officials with the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. Repairs were reported underway late last night, officials said. There was no word on how many residences and businesses were affected.

Precisely what caused the breaks was not clear, Johnson said.

WASA workers were waiting for Washington Gas crews to secure a nearby gas line before descending into the ground to inspect the damage to the larger water main and determine what is needed to repair it.

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