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Water damages Charles Town City Hall

October 17, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A 2-inch water line ruptured in the top of Charles Town City Hall over the weekend, allowing water to seep into the city council chambers and causing destruction of computers and recording equipment, and damaging items like framed photographs depicting Charles Town's history.

Officials believe the water was running for at least 12 hours as it ran across the second floor then seeped down through interior walls, blistering paint and soaking carpeting in the council chambers.

In Mayor Peggy Smith's second-floor office, which is above the council chambers, it appeared the floor might have bowed and officials were concerned about whether it created a safety hazard, Smith said Monday afternoon.

City Manager Jane Arnett said it later was determined that the building was safe enough for workers to begin conducting cleanup operations and that a structural engineer would take a closer look at the floor.

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Although some city offices had to be moved, city officials were able to open for city business Monday morning.

"It's a total disaster. I had no idea water could do that much damage," Smith said Monday afternoon.

City officials had not come up with damage estimates as of Monday.

The water line that ruptured went into an air conditioning unit above the mayor's office, Arnett said. Officials believe the water had been running as early as about 3:50 a.m. Sunday because a security alarm in the building went off about that time, Smith said. Police checked the building and found nothing unusual, Smith said.

Arnett decided to check the building again at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday to make sure everything was OK and found the place waterlogged.

Arnett said it sounded like "rainfall" inside. "The noise it was making was so odd," Arnett said.

Volunteer firefighters responded to the building and had the water turned off within about a half-hour, Arnett said.

Carpeting in the city council chambers had to be ripped up and a large water vacuum was used to suck up the water, city officials said. About 20 firefighters worked throughout the day Sunday on the building and were to be honored before a regular City Council meeting Monday night.

Water ran into a vault and a safe, and some city records got wet but were not destroyed, Smith said. It is possible that the photographs depicting the city's past can be restored, Smith said.

The building used to be the Bank of Charles Town and there is a huge steel vault in what is now the council chambers room. When water ran over the vault, it caused it to rust, and rust-colored water was running over carpet in the room when officials discovered the flooding Sunday, Smith said.

"It almost made you cry," Smith told city council members Monday night during the regular council meeting at Zion Episcopal Church on Washington Street. The meeting was moved to the church because of the flooding.

On Monday, the long table where city council members sit was gone and the carpet had been ripped up, leaving a bare floor. Fans and dehumidifiers were running throughout the building.

Arnett said it is hard to tell how long it might take to get the building back in working order and city officials were talking about making other arrangements for future council meetings.

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