Water break wreaks havoc in West Elizabeth

| Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Residents in West Elizabeth were hoping to have water service restored today by midmorning following a massive water main break.

Approximately 1 million gallons of water were lost, the borough garage was under 10 feet of water at one point, HAZMAT was called out, 80 residents lost water service and eight communities were put on a mandatory water conservation notice following Tuesday's break.

A 24-inch water main was damaged Tuesday at approximately 2 p.m. at the intersection of Fourth and Grant streets.

"A contractor was working on a sanitary sewer line," Pennsylvania American Water spokeswoman Josephine Posti said. "We still haven't determined the cause. Somehow our 24-inch water main ruptured during work."

W.G. Tomko was performing work in West Elizabeth to separate the storm sewers from the sanitary sewers per state Department of Environmental Protection orders.

The borough garage and three houses along Fourth Street flooded.

"Everything in the borough garage is ruined from our trucks to our snow plow, all the lawnmowers and weed eaters, everything a borough would own," borough emergency management coordinator Bill Wolfgang said.

Four homes are also without natural gas.

Posti said that on Tuesday at 6 p.m., PAW issued a mandatory conservation notice for Clairton, Dravosburg, Elizabeth Township, Elizabeth, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and West Elizabeth.

"That's really a precautionary measure to conserve water for our critical customers like hospitals," she said.

Posti said residents under that notice can check the PAW website at www.pennsylvaniaamericanwater.com to see when it's lifted.

She said PAW brought out additional crews to work throughout the night with the goal of restoring water service by mid-morning today.

West Elizabeth Sanitary Authority chairman James Halt said HAZMAT was called to the scene because water forced oil out of a fuel tank at WESA's Fourth Street pump station. He said the borough garage houses trucks, lawnmowers and cans containing gasoline.

"They wanted to make sure that it didn't get into the sewer and cause an explosion," Halt said.

He said the sewer lines at WESA's Ferry Street station were full of mud and stones.

Halt was watching crews work just before Tuesday's break when he left to work in the garage of his Fourth Street home.

"I heard like a rain sound and the sound of cars going over water," he said. "I looked out and half of (Route) 837 was flowing with water up to the curb."

"We have no gas or water," his wife Edith Halt said.

The Halts were left to sit outside Tuesday night, offering crews cookies, pizza and water.

"You can't go to the bathroom, you can't take a shower, you can't wash clothes, you can't do anything," Tammy Halt said. "How are you supposed to hold yourself for 17 hours?"

The main break occurred right in front of Abby Trainer's home in the 800 block of Fourth Street.

"I was at work," she said. "My mom called and told me what was going on. When I came home, I found a big hole in my front yard."

Trainer said water was coming in her basement, but a drain was depleting it at the same time.

"This is inconvenient, but it happens," she said.

The Salvation Army was on scene to provide crews with refreshments.

Wolfgang said traffic on Route 837 wasn't affected a great deal, but Fourth and Grant streets had to be closed.

He said while there originally was concern about power being shut off because of the location of power lines and a utility pole near the break, Allegheny Power brought in a truck to hold the utility pole in place while crews worked.

PAW provided a water buffalo, bottled water and gallons of water, available at West Elizabeth Methodist Church along Route 837. Residents could bring buckets to get water from the buffalo to flush toilets.

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