Philadelphia Water main blows : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Monday, June 26, 2000

Water main blows Wall of water, sea of mud inundate homes in Northeast by Steve Esack Daily News Staff Writer On a day when residents should've been trying to beat the heat, some Northeast Philadelphia home owners found themselves trying to beat water and mud instead.

A 12-inch water main blew about 4:15 a.m. yesterday, transforming Willits Road near Ashton Road into a mini river and leaving a massive chasm at one of the corners.

"There was a wall of water down the street," said Kevin Gregory, as he and Jim Scism hosed, shoveled and swept mud out of their buckled driveway. "Most of it pooled into the driveways as it hit them. We're not touching the garage until the insurance adjuster comes out."

A Honda CV900 motorcycle, microwave, washer, dryer, freezer and catering supplies were just some of the things damaged or destroyed in their garage and basement in the 2800 block of Willits.

"This is not what I wanted to do on my Sunday," said Scism, 32, as he aimed the hose at the mud-caked steps. "The Water Department came in and backhoed the mud out of the driveway. The mud was 2-inches deep."

About a dozen homes in the 2800 block of Willits Road suffered damage when water rose two feet in their ground-level floors.

Firefighters evacuated 38 people from 29 houses as a precaution because "water and electricity don't go well together," said Managing Director Joe Martz.

They were directed to waiting SEPTA buses that took them to nearby St. Jerome's Elementary School. The Red Cross had set up a temporary shelter at the school.

Families were allowed back home at 8:30 a.m. after water was rerouted to their houses and PGW and Peco Energy crews checked for gas leaks and electrical problems, Martz said.

A four-foot section of the 45-year-old cast-iron pipe blew out in the middle, said Tony Varno, a Water Department supervisor, as he surveyed the 25-by-30-foot, 8-foot deep hole on the northeast corner of Willits and Ashton roads.

Water crews were dispatched from 29th and Clearfield streets at 4:22 a.m., Martz said. It took them a while to stop the water flow, he added, because crews had to fan across the Pennypack neighborhood shutting off valves.

Age is the suspected culprit, Martz said, adding a break the size of yesterday's was rare for the summertime.

"I think it caught us a little by surprise," he said. "They certainly are not frequent for this time of year. This is something you see in the frost, thaw time in winter."

The pipe was scheduled to be fixed yesterday, Martz said. But traffic will be another problem for a while.

Willits Road and southbound Ashton Road should be re-opened to traffic today. But, northbound Ashton Road will be closed for the next few days while crews repair water, phone, electrical and sewer lines in and near the hole, Martz said.

Teams with the city's Office of Risk Management and water department were in the neighborhood surveying property damage yesterday. The city will work with homeowners to cover repairs and damage, Martz said.

"A 12-inch pipe is a very big pipe, and any time there's water damage that's our liability," Martz said.

Norman and Rosemary Beeth-am were to move from 2809 Willits Road in two weeks. They had boxes of books, stereo equipment and kitchen supplies packed in their basement.

Yesterday, it all lay waterlogged in the back yard.

"Everything is ruined," Norman Beetham, 58, said. "It's amazing what water will do."

-- Martin Thompson (, June 26, 2000

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