Sunday, May 22, 2005

Crews restored water service to about 10,400 residences and businesses in Columbia Heights early yesterday morning after two separate water main breaks Saturday shut off water for up to 12 hours in some cases.

A 24-inch water-transmission line ruptured at about 4:15 a.m. Saturday and formed a sinkhole at 13th Street and Florida Avenue NW.

A second 18-inch water main in the same hole broke at about 9 p.m., after a 12-by-8-foot chunk of asphalt weakened by the water fell on it, said Michele Quander-Collins, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA).

At least 10,000 residents and businesses, including several area hospitals and parts of Adams Morgan and Brookland, were affected by the original water main break, which lasted about 12 hours.

The second break affected as many as 400 other customers near Florida Avenue and 13th Street. It was repaired early yesterday morning.

Ms. Quander-Collins said the cause of the main break is still undetermined, although it may have been caused by old, outdated pipes and equipment. The pipe that broke was installed in 1905. The repair work done Saturday and early yesterday morning will serve as a “patch-up” until new pipes can be installed, she said.

“We still have substantial work to do on that valve. We were trying to control it [Saturday], but we are not out of the woods yet. We’re going to look at various repair alternatives that have the least disruptions for residents,” she said.

Those “disruptions” could involve road closures and water service interruptions, officials said. Repairs that will require the water to be shut off will most likely be done overnight, they said.

Because of the water damage on the road, officials will develop a plan for today’s morning and evening commutes, said Bill Rice, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT).

The main break created an 8-foot-deep sinkhole in the road, Ms. Quander-Collins said.

DDOT officials said they will work with WASA to repair the roads, but do not know how long those repairs will take.

The water main breaks created a number of problems for nearby residents, including loss of water, gas and electricity. One resident complained that sinkholes aren’t an unusual problem in the neighborhood.

The intersection of Florida Avenue and 13 Street NW where the sinkhole formed remained closed yesterday as about a dozen workers from Fort Myer Construction Corp., a local paving company, made repairs. Half of the intersection had been torn up.

Eliu Madrigal, 71, who is retired, said he didn’t have water until service resumed yesterday morning. However, he said his gas service remained shut off as of yesterday afternoon.

“It shouldn’t take so long,” said Mr. Madrigal, who lives in an apartment building at the intersection.

Renee Johnson, who lives on Belmont Street, said the massive sinkhole isn’t the first one to appear on the neighborhood streets.

Miss Johnson, 29, said her 7-year-old daughter tripped and hurt her leg about a week ago because of a small hole on Belmont. She said the hole still hasn’t been fixed.

Saturday’s water main break was one of several that have occurred in the District in recent years.

In 2002, a water main break in Georgetown left portions of Canal Road, just west of the Key Bridge, submerged by up to 3 feet of water. The water trapped drivers in several cars, snarled traffic and caused water pressure to drop in nearby homes and businesses.

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