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Water main break affects thousands

December 04, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A break in one of the two transmission lines from Hagerstown's main water plant on Friday morning affected thousands of customers and led to public schools being closed early.

Approximately 80 percent of the city's 85,000 customers were affected, said David Shindle, manager of the Water and Sewer Department. The department serves from Williamsport east to Smithsburg and from the Pennsylvania state line to the state prison complex south of Hagerstown.

City officials received calls from people without water and people with low water pressure, although Shindle and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said they do not know for certain whether anyone truly was without water. Some people complained of having no water and when further questioned said they had a stream of water, they said.

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It's possible some people had no water, especially in higher elevations, Zimmerman said.

The water main break occurred around 9:30 a.m. and was isolated around noon so customers' water pressure should have been restored before 1 p.m., Shindle said.

City crews were expected to work through the night and hopefully have the pipe fixed this morning, Shindle said.

The break was in one of two 24-inch transmission lines from the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant near Williamsport. The break occurred near Redland Brick Inc. on the bank of Conococheague Creek, with little room for the crew to work between the break and the creek, Shindle said.

The cause of the break has not been determined.

The cast iron pipe that broke was installed around 1927 or 1928, Shindle said.

Around 2 to 3 p.m., the city's William M. Breichner Water Treatment Plant near Smithsburg started adding water to the city's distribution system at a rate of approximately 4 million gallons a day, Shindle said.

Water was flowing through the Willson plant's other main transmission line at a rate of more than 11 million gallons a day, Shindle said.

The city's customers use approximately 10 million gallons of water a day, Shindle said. He estimated the city lost about 2 million gallons of water due to the leak.

Washington County Public Schools closed an hour early Friday and after-school events, including athletic events, were canceled, spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

The water main break affected at least 10 schools, Mowen said. All three Williamsport schools and Winter Street Elementary School had no water, she said.

Winter Street Principal Kathy Kelsey said students and teachers had no alternative but to use toilets that had not been flushed. Maintenance workers brought bottled water to the school to manually flush toilets, she said.

Mowen said School Board officials discussed getting portable toilets for some schools, but decided against it because the portables probably wouldn't arrive before school ended.

Some surgeries at Washington County Hospital were rescheduled because of the water problem, spokeswoman Marina Shannon said.

The areas most significantly affected were Hagerstown, Williamsport, Halfway, Cearfoss and Maugansville, said Joe Kroboth, director of emergency services for Washington County.

As a precaution, two tanker trucks were brought in from Carroll and Frederick counties and stationed at Williamsport Volunteer Fire Department and Western Enterprise Fire Co. in Hagerstown's West End, Kroboth said.

Emergency officials canceled two trucks carrying drinking water from the National Guard in Baltimore after water pressure started to return, Kroboth said.

The Washington County Free Library closed at noon on Friday, according to its answering machine.

Many businesses also were affected by the lack of water or water pressure.

Valley Mall was without water for a short period and had low water pressure for about 2 1/2 hours, Marketing Director Julie Rohm said. The water problem caused the food court to open late, around lunchtime, but the mall opened on time, she said.

Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Inc. on Frederick Street canceled its last shift of the week because the ice cream plant relies on water to make ice cream and to clean up, Human Resources Manager Pete Madeo said. Approximately 100 people work the last shift.

Ruby Tuesday on Wesel Boulevard had not opened as of Friday afternoon, Assistant Manager Paul Kuhlman said. No one answered the phone there as of shortly before 9 p.m.

Kuhlman said the restaurant was waiting to hear from the health department, which was waiting to hear from the city.

In Williamsport, McDonald's closed at 11:30 a.m. to ensure the water was safe, Shift Manager Denise Bright said. The restaurant reopened at 4 p.m.

Byers River City Market sold its lone case of gallon water jugs shortly after the water problem became apparent, owner Rachel Bowen said.

"The town's in a panic," Bowen said. "Everyone's buying bottled water. People are calling, asking if our water's out. Everyone's worried."

Staff writers Wanda Williams and Tamela Baker contributed to this story.

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