Alexandria became a city of ominous silence yesterday when a water pipe burst at a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. wire center, drenching vital computer circuitry and leaving more than 38,000 customers without phone service for most of the afternoon.

More than 9,000 customers remained without phone service last night, and James Ellington, manager of the phone company's Alexandria operation, said he did not expect service to be fully restored until about 8 this morning.

Ellington said replacement equipment was being brought in from New York, Maryland and elsewhere in Northern Virginia to restore the city's computer switching apparatus.

From City Hall to Sam's Delicatessen on King Street, business came to a stop without the ringing, buzzing and whirring that normally govern every working day.

"It's killing me," said Khader Azzouz, manager of Sam's, a popular Old Town establishment that relies heavily on phoned orders for its business. "We usually make several hundred lunches a day. Today was a total disaster."

Not everyone agreed. "It's simply wonderful," said Patty Jones, an executive secretary in the city manager's office whose normally harried job was transformed into a serene holiday. "I've never seen so much peace here."

A spokesman for C&P said that a standpipe burst at its facility at 1316 Mount Vernon Ave. about 12:30 p.m. during a routine test of the building's emergency water supply.

But even with most phones, on the blink, inventive telephone addicts found a way to get a fix.

"As soon as I realized what happened, I jumped in my car and started to dial," said Jack Hutchinson, owner of Entre' Computers. "I sat out there and made all my calls until everyone else in the city with a car phone got the same idea. Then all the lines got busy."

Lucy Crockett, a police spokeswoman, said that the city's 911 service was disrupted for most of the afternoon, during which time another emergency number was in service.