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Thursday June 22 5:21 PM ET

Raw Sewage Poops on Party at Miami's Beaches

By Frances Kerry

MIAMI (Reuters) - Raw sewage kept tourists and residents off Miami's beaches and out of the ocean on Thursday as the city raced to repair a broken waste pipe that sent a torrent of untreated effluent into the water.

Health and environment officials closed off miles of beaches in the Miami area on Tuesday after construction workers on Miami Beach accidentally ruptured a large underground waste main.

They extended the closed area further north on Wednesday to include all of Miami Beach, as well as the beaches on Key Biscayne, telling the public to avoid swimming, wading, fishing or diving.

The city water authority has diverted sewage, flowing at a rate of some one million gallons an hour, from the broken pipe to an old waste pipe. For the moment that line will dump untreated sewage two miles out into the ocean.

The punctured pipe, which could take days to repair, normally carries sewage from Miami Beach under Biscayne Bay to a treatment center on Virginia Key.

Pink signs saying ``danger, contaminated water, avoid contact,'' were posted around beach entrances in English and also Spanish and French, reflecting both the city's multicultural population and its full-time occupation as a tourist resort.

Most people, hearing about what had happened, needed little convincing that the ocean was not the place to be.

But some people were still bobbing around in the water, risking all manner of unpleasant illnesses, officials said.

Mary-Jo Trepka, director of epidemiology and disease control for the Miami-Dade Health Department, said while the exact risks were not known, water contaminated by untreated sewage could carry a range of bacteria, viruses and parasites as well as chemicals from toilet bowls and washing machines.

Potential problems ranged from stomach illnesses to skin, ear and eye infections, and people such as the elderly, small children or those who have lowered immunity were especially at risk, she said.

``We really do want people to take these warnings seriously until we have (water test) readings that the beaches are safe,'' Trepka said.

Authorities have said that even after the waste pipe is repaired, they will wait for two consecutive days of safe water test readings before opening the beaches.

The construction piling that punctured the 54-inch waste pipe was removed from the hole on Wednesday and the patch-up work was starting on Thursday, county officials said.

The sewage leak is a blow to Miami, a city of two million people that is a big tourist attraction for visitors from other parts of the United States, Europe and Latin America. The city prides itself on its clean beaches.

``This is a temporary issue for the area and our visitors can expect to enjoy the Miami experience shortly,'' said William Talbert, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. He added that in the meantime, visitors were enjoying ''all the other attractions and shopping that Miami has to offer.''

Talbert called the sewage leak a temporary setback for swimmers but said there would be no lasting effects on the beaches.

-- Rachel Gibson (, June 22, 2000

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