Several thousand tenants in some of the city's worst public housing projects lost their heat and hot water this weekend as the severe cold burst heating pipes.
More than 1,500 apartments, about 10 percent of the city's public housing units, lacked heat and hot water yesterday. The estimated 5,000 tenants -- mostly women with small children -- were forced instead to rely on heat from their gas stoves.
Some apartments were flooded when the 20-degree-and-lower temperatures that have gripped the area since Christmas ruptured water pipes, spewing water into apartments and turning unheated hallways into corridors of ice.
City officials said yesterday that they were trying to make repairs as quickly as possible. "We are very, very concerned about it and we are doing the maximum we can," said Sidney Glee, the city's director of public housing. Glee said he had visited some of the heatless projects earlier in the day.
Lillie Pettie, of 610 46th Pl. SE. in the Benning Terrace project, said she and most of her family of seven have been sleeping in the living room since their bathroom ceiling fell into the bathtub on Christmas Day. Like many of their neighbors, they have no hot water and little heat.
"I had it fixed up so nice," said Mrs. Pettie, surveying the bathroom that was now a mass of peeling contact paper, wet debris and a rotting floor.
The family moved to the living room after the water soaked the carpeting in two of the apartment's three bedrooms. A sign on the front door said, "Disaster area -- enter at your own risk."
In the next building, Eula Wilson, 57, a mother of eight, had all four burners on her kitchen stove turned on and was heating a large pan of water on one.
"We burn the stove all night because it's just freezing here," she said between deep coughs from a lingering cold.
A small electric heater she had used to warm a back bedrom broke down Friday night, she said.
A neighbor, Dorothy Massey, was luckier. Her mother brought the family an electric heater on Christmas Day. Massey, who lives with her four children and several grandchildren, and other tenants said the heating system breaks down every winter.
Across the hall, Catreeda Lloyd, 19, said, "Our oven is our heat and sometimes we have to turn on the top burners to keep warm. You wake up in the morning and it's like an icebox in here. You have to stack the bed with blankets and quilts and spreads to keep from getting cold."
She said her mother turns the stove off at night because she fears fires.
Outside, many of the sidewalks surrounding the building are caked with ice from water that has drained out of vacant apartments where pipes have burst. Steam spews from behind plywood panels covering other vacant units, where vandals have combined with the cold to ruin plumbing fixtures and pipes.
In addition to Benning Terrace, Glee said Lincoln Heights, Richardson, Stoddert and East Capitol Dwellings, all located east of Anacostia River, plus Arthur Capper on Capitol Hill and Greenleaf in Southwest, are the projects hardest hit by the cold weather. He said 400 to 500 apartments at Arthur Capper were without heat.
At 1200 Delaware Ave. SW, a highrise building that is part of the Greenleaf complex, Janice Moore, 26, said she had ankle-deep water in her seventh-floor apartment because a water pipe had broken in the apartment above hers Friday afternoon. The water broke a hole under her kitchen sink and poured out onto the floor.
She sent her three children, aged 10 months to 9 years, to her father's home and she and neighbors spent the night and most of yesterday sweeping out the water. Despite their efforts, it continued to trickle in like a small brook.
Glee said "the severe cold is now taking its toll on the outdated equipment that has been been maintained through the years."
Since water and heat pipes are poorly insulated, he said, housing maintenance men had increased water temperatures and pressure in the lines to try to ensure that the water would still be hot when it arrived in the apartments. But in many cases, the increased pressure and heat had burst the pipes, he said.
Asked about complaints from tenants that they had repeatedly called for service without success, he said, "You take the worst situations and gradually work your way to the others."