Morning washed away

Parked vehicles were pounded by water from a 54-inch main at Hampton South Business Park in Prince George's County.
Parked vehicles were pounded by water from a 54-inch main at Hampton South Business Park in Prince George's County. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A massive water main break in Prince George's County shut down the inner loop of the Capital Beltway for hours Monday morning, forced the closure of a federal agency and required Maryland's suburban water utility to issue a boil-water order for 400,000 customers.

The order affects Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission customers in an area roughly from the District line to Route 301 and from just south of Central Avenue to Indian Head Highway.

Officials said the order was a precaution because of the loss of pressure in the system, indicating an increased possibility of contamination. Water for drinking, ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation should be brought to a rolling boil for one minute and cooled, WSSC officials said. The order also applies to water used by pets.

Lyn Riggins, a WSSC spokeswoman, said it was uncertain how long the boiling advisory will be in effect. "We know it's an inconvenience, and we'll lift it as soon as we can," she said.

Officials said the order will last until pressure is restored in the system and water quality has been confirmed through tests.

WSSC General Manager Jerry N. Johnson said during a news conference at the site that it was unclear how long repairs will take. But the problem "will certainly cost over $1 million" to fix, he said.

An investigation will be necessary to determine the cause of the break, Johnson said.

The U.S. Census Bureau closed its headquarters in Suitland on Monday because the building had no water, and Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville also closed.

The break caused damage to a nearby one-story office building. Several vehicles in a parking lot were damaged; at least two cars were overturned and a pickup truck smashed in the torrent.

Riggins said the pipe that ruptured was a major distribution main, 54 inches in diameter.

"It still looks like white-water rapids behind there, but it's greatly reduced from this morning," Riggins said late Monday morning, referring to the industrial area adjacent to the interstate where the water main broke. The area is a few blocks south of Central Avenue.

WSSC officials said the break occurred about 3:50 a.m. For about six hours, cars were rerouted from the Beltway to local streets, but by Monday afternoon most of the lanes were flowing again. Road crews treated the highway to prevent the formation of ice.


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