Westmoreland County schools, businesses play it safe, make contingency plans until water crisis is under control

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A boil-water advisory sent officials from schools, retirement communities, restaurants and grocery stores scrambling to form backup plans on Friday, many erring on the side of caution because of confusion about whether they were actually affected.

An announcement on Thursday night by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County that more than 50,000 customers should boil their water because of a filtration problem sent droves of shoppers to supermarkets, clearing shelves of bottled water.

By late Friday, many people were headed into the weekend still uncertain if the advisory was intended for them and seeking more information about the contamination.

Apollo resident Angela Reichenecker Stinson said she received a robo call from the water authority at 9 p.m. Thursday.

“They were not telling anybody what was actually wrong,” she said.

Stinson said she could not determine if it was OK to use water for showering.

“What if you have a cut on your skin?” she asked.

Stinson said she turned to the MAWC website for more information, but it crashed within 30 minutes of her receiving the robo call.

Meanwhile, some of her neighbors reported they did not receive a call, Stinson said.

Schools and businesses had varying degrees of success in getting the situation under control.

Mike Kitch, manager at Route 66 Grille, north of Greensburg, was out shopping minutes before his restaurant opened, trying to find bottled water.

But as Marie Aliberti, a manager at Giant Eagle in North Huntingdon, could have told him, none was left.

The store had received five pallets of bottled water and sold out in 30 minutes.

Customers started arriving at 10 p.m. and didn't stop all night.

Most local school districts chose to open but had to scrounge water for hundreds of students.

Eileen Amato, Greensburg Salem School District superintendent, said students would eat lunch on Styrofoam trays because the water could not be used to wash dishes.

Norwin School District “bagged” drinking fountains in all buildings.

Hempfield Area School District Superintendent Andy Leopold termed the water problem “a mess.”

The district shut off water, except for toilets, at Maxwell and West Hempfield elementary schools and three middle schools. Leopold said the water authority still hadn't been able to confirm whether Maxwell and West Hempfield were affected.

Bottled water and hand sanitizers were distributed, and food was prepared off-site. Only canned fruits and vegetables were being served with lunch, he said.

Kiski Area, Apollo Ridge and Leechburg Area school districts closed.

Franklin Regional Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said that once the district determined it could safely hold school, it distributed bottled water to schools, served pre-made food at lunches and used Styrofoam trays to cope.

“We are prepared on Monday with the same level of precautions and procedures” if the advisory is still in effect, Piraino said.

Excela Health spokeswoman Jen Miele said the hospitals were operating normally and physician practices in affected areas were taking precautions, including use of bottled water and hand sanitizers.

Sam Rubin, who runs Walkers PetHotail in Murrysville, said the dogs at day care were all getting well water. Rubin was upset that the authority did not immediately release information about what was contaminating the water.

Table Restaurant in Murrysville was on the fence about opening Friday morning, but manager Chris Coglio ultimately bought soda and iced tea at Giant Eagle for the lunch rush.

The restaurant's owner drove in with bottles of water from his home in Indiana County, because every store in the Murrysville area was sold out.

Kate Wilcox and Kari Andren are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Wilcox can be reached at 724-836-6155 or kwilcox@tribweb.com. Andren can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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