Tens of thousands of Prince George's County residents were preparing Tuesday to spend the hottest week so far this year without running water, thanks to a failing underground pipeline that urgently needs to be replaced.
Officials with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said the water flow to the failing pipe was set to be turned off at 9 p.m. Tuesday and might not return for five days while workers remove and replace the 54-inch concrete tube that runs underground at Suitland Parkway and Forestville Road. WSSC officials said their monitoring system has noted a growing number of wire breaks in the concrete pipe, which is a signal that this type of pipe is failing.
Spokesman I.J. Hudson said residents in the affected area should have 12 to 15 hours worth of water once the pipe is shut off, but that the time would depend on residents' conservation efforts.
"The clock really starts running when the pipe goes out of service," Mr. Hudson said.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said the county was prepared to open two sites to provide residents with bathrooms and showers and multiple cooling centers as needed. He also stressed the importance of stocking as much water as possible, whether bottled water or even filling bathtubs with tap water.
"Come [Wednesday] morning when everyone gets up to take showers, it's gonna run out quick," Mr. Baker said. "The main thing is we've got to get through these days and then figure out where we are."
As of Tuesday, county residents and businesses were preparing for the fallout of not having water for toilets, showers and, in some cases, air conditioners, during a week that weather forecasters said would hover near 100 degrees.
"This is a perfect time for the water to go out, during a heat wave," Mr. Baker said sarcastically during a news conference Tuesday at the Prince George's County Office of Emergency Management. "This is unique, but we're going to get through this."
The communities affected by the disruption include Andrews Air Force Base, Morningside, Hillcrest Heights, Camp Springs, Forest Heights, Temple Hills, Oxon Hill, and National Harbor. They are home to between 150,000 and 200,000 people, officials said.
Shelves were bare in many grocery and convenience stores, and many customers could be seen walking to their cars toting large bags of ice.
As he packed his navy blue Cadillac DeVille with ice bags and cases of water, 75-year-old Clinton resident John Sullivan said he had already started filling up his bathtubs with water and was prepared to check on several elderly neighbors who could suffer in the heat.
"I filled the tub, but after a few days the water is not good for drinking," Mr. Sullivan said. "But there's plenty of rivers and streams, not for drinking, but for washing and for cooling off."
At Roozen Nursery and Garden Centers in Fort Washington, Eric Roozen was preparing to take a financial hit.
The 65-year-old garden center owner said he already had watered his five acres of plants and flowers twice by midday Tuesday.
"There's no rain in the forecast," he said. "We may lose a bunch of plants."
According to the National Weather Service, the area could see some scattered precipitation in the coming days, with a 40 percent chance of rain on Saturday being the most likely in the seven-day forecast. Mr. Roozen said employees had filled spare koi ponds with water and that he'd taken some water to his own house a few blocks down the street.
The WSSC disruption is reminiscent of last summer's derecho, which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of D.C.-area residents, some for more than a week, during a heat wave. This time, residents will have electricity, though officials said some businesses and homes that use water to cool air conditioning units will have to find another way to keep their systems running.
Two county pools also will be out of service, Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Anita Pesses said. The county health department requires that public pools have incoming water to keep filters running and chemicals balanced. The North Barnaby pool in Oxon Hill and Allentown pool in Fort Washington will be closed.
Ronald Gill, the county's director of emergency management, said county officials were informed of the failing pipe at about 3 p.m. Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, the construction site for the pipeline was buzzing with trucks kicking up dust and gravel and workers in neon work vests studying the land before the repair.
County officials said no hospitals are in the affected area, and Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor said his department had filled its tanker trucks, which can carry up to 500 gallons of water, and were prepared for any chance of fire.
⦁ Celina Durgin contributed to this report.
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