Water Main Breaks in Adams Morgan, Flooding Homes and Disrupting Traffic

A 20-inch water main break is affecting homes, businesses and traffic in the southern part of the busy Adams Morgan neighborhood early Tuesday morning.Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
SOURCE: | The Washington Post - May 7, 2009
By Debbi Wilgoren and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 7, 2009

A 20-inch water main in the District's Adams Morgan neighborhood broke yesterday during the morning rush hour, flooding homes and businesses and triggering traffic problems that extended into the evening.

"A lot of the homes suffered pretty significant water damage," said Deputy D.C. Fire Chief Ken Crosswhite. "The road was totally impassable."

Pamela Mooring, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, said the agency began getting calls about the leak shortly before 7 a.m.

As of last night, WASA crews were still trying to reach the broken pipe. Officials had not determined the cause of the break.

As yesterday's evening rush hour began, Florida Avenue, normally a bustling cross-town artery, remained closed between 17th and California streets, the D.C. Department of Transportation said. The 1700 block of V Street was also closed. Asphalt in the area was severely damaged as the road buckled and ripped apart. Motorists were advised to use alternate routes, including U Street.

Mooring said several factors might have contributed to the break. Fluctuating temperatures can cause pipes to expand and contract, sometimes creating fractures in older, weaker pipes. Corrosive soil conditions and soil erosion also contribute to breaks, she said.

"Aging infrastructure is an issue nationwide," she said. "There are a lot of pipes in the ground that are over 100 years old."

As for replacing older pipes, she said, "we've done a lot as far as assessing the distribution system, the upgrades that need to happen, and have incorporated the highest-priority ones in our capital improvement program."

One business, a moving and storage company, lost water service yesterday. Other customers continued to get water because WASA switched them to other lines, said Charles Kiely, the utility's assistant general manager.

Kiely said the pipe that burst had been relined in 2000.

Crosswhite said fire crews went door to door in the affected neighborhood, evacuating some houses and pumping out flooded basements as a precaution. "If your basement floods and it gets about the level of the outlets, then you face the possibility of your water becoming energized," he said.

Noah Armstrong, 29, a graphic artist who lives near the site of the break, said that when he woke up, "it sounded like really heavy rain falling. It was rushing water. I looked out the window, and I saw water coming from the street."

Armstrong said that he lives on the top two floors of his building and that the basement had sustained water damage.

Joseph Currie, who lives in the 1700 block of Florida Avenue, said that although his floor was muddy and many personal items had been soaked, he was relieved that his baby grand piano was mostly spared. He's a professional pianist.

"It was about 7:15 when they banged on the door and said that we had to evacuate," said Currie, 44. "When I opened up the front door, all of the water rushed inside."

Staff writer Paul Duggan contributed to this report.

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