Residents recount horror of rising water from massive Carrick water main break |
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Wendy Gitzen woke early Friday to what she thought was the sound of rain outside her Carrick home.

She quickly realized it was no passing shower.

“It sounded like the Ohiopyle out there,” said Gitzen, 46, who, in a few seconds, discovered her house was surrounded by water. She woke up her mother, Rose, and called 911.

They prayed.

“We were so scared,” said Rose Gitzen, 78. “It’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me my whole life. My house is going to be gone.”

The Gitzens and their six cats were rescued by Pittsburgh first responders following what authorities said was a break in a 24-inch water main along East Agnew Avenue around 5 a.m. Crews stopped the break about 11:20 a.m.

About 10 homes were affected, some of them with severe damage, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said.

Pittsburgh’s Department of Permits Licenses and Inspections condemned two of the houses, which means they can be repaired, but are not currently fit for habitation, according to Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto. McNulty could not immediately provide the addresses.

Thirty-five communities in southern Allegheny County had low or no water pressure, according to the Pennsylvania American Water Co. Water company spokesman Gary Lobaugh said crews have isolated the break and that the impacted communities should have full water service by Friday evening.

About 30 customers living on and around East Agnew also were impacted, and Penn American expects to restore service to them by Saturday afternoon, Lobaugh said.

Pennsylvania American Water issued a precautionary boil-water advisory for numerous communities and have distributed water tanks to the impacted areas. Lobaugh said it would remain in effect until at least Sunday.

St. Clair Hospital and its Outpatient Center in Bethel Park were experiencing low water pressure as a result of the break, according to spokesman.

The hospital maintains a secondary water supply so all operations were continuing as normal, the spokesman said. Patient care was not affected.

A map of areas under the boil water advisory can be found here.

Water had reached several feet deep in some back yards in the area of East Agnew Avenue and Becks Run Road. Agnew was buckled and water flowed down Becks Run to Carson Street. The break created a large crater in the middle of the street that officials estimated was 25 to 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide.

“I looked out my window and thought I was in the middle of the Mon River,” said Charles Buel, who had to leave his Agnew Avenue house through a window because his front door was blocked with debris. “I had three feet of water in my basement.”

Stones and muddy debris covered yards in the affected area, and the break created a waterfall over a ravine behind the homes on Agnew. Debris covered a large flatbed truck that was parked at a business at the bottom of the ravine, leaving only part of the cab and rear exposed.

A utility pole was seen bobbing in the water, held up by its wires.

“The road is completely washed away,” Pittsburgh Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said. “There’s going to be significant damage to at least three homes.”

Togneri said there were two rescues and multiple assisted evacuations, including the Gitzens.

Firefighters and crews with Pennsylvania American Water and Duquesne Light were at the scene.

Hissrich said some people could be allowed back into their homes as early as Friday, but it could be days before roads can be reopened.

“There are some houses that the water has taken out the foundation, where the foundation is totally exposed,” he said. “A report that I had received en route here this morning was the water had already filled up the basement and was starting to fill up the first floor of one of the houses. There’s two or three houses that have serious damage.”

Carrick resident Kevin Kehren lives two doors down from Rose Gitzen. He said he was working in Downtown Pittsburgh when Rose Gitzen called him, saying there was water coming in her front door.

Kehren called home to his wife, who told him water was flowing through their yard.

He said they called 911 to get Gitzen and her daughter rescued.

Traffic was using Brownsville Road as an alternate route.

The Red Cross was on the scene assisting those affected.

The water main break forced several schools to close for the day.

Among the closed schools are the Keystone Oaks School District, Mt. Lebanon School District, Baldwin-Whitehall School District, Brentwood Borough School District, Bethel Park’s Abraham Lincoln Elementary School and St. Bernard School, and 10 of the Pittsburgh Public Schools: Beechwood PreK-5, Brookline PreK-8, Banksville PreK-5, Carrick High School, Concord PreK-5, Carmalt PreK-8, Roosevelt PreK-5, West Liberty PreK-5, South Brook 6-8 and Pioneer.

Becks Run Road will be closed through the weekend, said Karina Ricks, director of the city’s department of mobility and infrastructure. Agnew Avenue will be closed indefinitely, she said.

Hissrich said water tanks are being dropped off in neighborhoods impacted by the outage.

Brian C. Rittmeyer and Bob Bauder are Tribune-Rview staff writers. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRitteyer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder. 

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