- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BALTIMORE | A massive water main break shut down the heart of downtown Baltimore on Tuesday, sending thousands of workers home or to other offices and at one point flooding the city with 2 feet of water.

Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler said the rushing water created a sinkhole 1 1/2 feet deep and 6 feet across. Eight city office buildings, including City Hall and police and fire headquarters, and several commercial buildings were closed in a 32 square-block area. Downtown roads were also closed, snarling traffic during morning rush hour. No injuries were reported.

“It is the center of our commercial sector so there’s definitely an impact there,” Mr. Fowler said. “This is really the heaviest concentration of employees in Baltimore city.”

The flood had dissipated by midafternoon but muddy, slippery sidewalks within a block of the break were pocked with shoe prints and within yards of the flooded intersection, wave action had rippled the sidewalks.

The flooded intersection “looked like the edge of the ocean tides where you can ride boogie boards and slide along the water’s edge,” Mr. Fowler said.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said the city hopes to have the problem fixed by Wednesday morning.

“This is going to be an all day and night situation. This is a huge water main break and this is a huge area that’s affected,” she said.

The break was in a 20-inch line, but public works officials said crews also shut off a nearby 40-inch line while the damage was assessed. Water customers outside the area had low water pressure until late afternoon, Mr. Fowler said.

Utility crews worked at Lombard and Gay streets as water was pumped from underground pipes, Baltimore Gas and Electric spokeswoman Linda Foy said. That is where most of the interruption for commuters, businesses and downtown workers would be on Wednesday, Mr. Fowler said.

Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, said crews have been planning repairs to two large water mains in the area, but the break occurred before those repairs could start.

State officials closed the William Donald Schaefer Tower, which houses 14 state agencies, affecting more than 1,100 workers. The city and federal courthouses were also shuttered.

About 1,500 BGE customers lost power for about an hour and a half in the morning.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was closed because the attraction uses city water for plumbing and food services. Spokeswoman Jennifer Bloomer said the aquarium uses a separate water system for the animals that includes a reserve.

• Associated Press writer Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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