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Main break floods Overbrook street

| Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

Streets flooded and water cascaded through homes Saturday after a 20-inch water main broke in Overbrook. The water closed Route 51, disrupted traffic for hours and sent debris over a four-block area.

No one was injured, but the sudden water surge stunned residents. The water kept rushing for hours, leaving shattered glass, mud and waterlogged basements and first floors.

The break "was like a tsunami," said Alysha Allen, who lives at the corner of Dartmore Street and Midwood Avenue, a block from the site of the break.

"Water just came up the street like a river," she said.

The contents of one garage washed into the street after the garage door burst from the water pressure. The parked car washed about 15 feet out of the driveway onto the street.

"I got wiped out pretty good," said Bob Mann, of Dartmore Street, the car's owner, who was not home at the time.

Yesterday's rupture was the latest break in water lines serving the southern sections of the city and nearby suburbs -- areas managed by Pennsylvania American Water Co.

"We will have a sit-down with them and see what might be needed for an upgrade for the system," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said about the water company.

The mayor spent about an hour talking to residents and emergency workers late yesterday.

"It's real bad," Ravenstahl said about the mess.

The break occurred about 1 p.m. in a 20-inch transmission main on Fairland Street past the intersection with Midwood Avenue, said Phil Cynar, spokesman for Pennsylvania American.

The break left a gash in the street about 8 feet deep and 20 feet wide. The water cascaded downhill for several hours through yards and onto both lanes of Route 51.

"I always thought that this would never happen because my home is on a hillside," said Jim Smith, of Dartmore Street, whose family-room window was broken by the gushing water. "My backyard was just like a lake."

Route 51 between Colrain Street and Overbrook Boulevard was not expected to reopen until this morning. Parts of Dartmore and Fairland streets also are expected to be closed overnight.

"All water utilities experience main breaks," Cynar said. "We are working on it and will continue to work on it."

Pennsylvania American is under investigation by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on how it responded to a series of water main breaks that began Dec. 10 in Lincoln Place and spread to nearby suburbs and other city neighborhoods.

That break left the West Mifflin Area and Steel Valley school districts and about 1,000 water customers without water for nearly a week.

Pennsylvania American manages water distribution in that area, as well as in Brookline, which experienced water main breaks earlier this month and in August.

At least 350 area homes had water service disrupted yesterday, according to Cynar. Residents of about eight households were displaced, said Michael Huss, Pittsburgh's director of public safety. The American Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania was helping eight adults and two children with food and shelter, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Stanley.

City workers were brought into the neighborhood last night to help clean up debris, said Pittsburgh Public Works Director Guy Costa.

The company's disaster-restoration workers were also assisting residents.

Greg Nelson, who lives on Fairland Street, said he and other neighbors had noticed water seeping out of the ground as early as 11 a.m.

"We heard a loud pop, and then the water was 10 feet high," he said.

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