City cleans up after water-main breaks

Posted: July 31, 2012

Two separate water main breaks in the last week have sent millions of gallons of water gushing into city streets, and the Philadelphia Water Department into overdrive to clean it all up.

At Willits and Ashton streets in Northeast Philadelphia, where an eight-inch water main burst Sunday night, the debris was mostly gone by Monday morning. PWD spokesman John Digiulio said the leak was shut off in about two hours. Streets were reopened and all utility services were restored by Monday morning, officials said.

But across town, at 21st and Bainbridge streets, crews were still working 15 feet below ground in a massive hole that developed after a 48-inch water main burst on July 22, sending dirt, cement and water flooding through the neighborhood.

Many residents are still unable to enter their homes, and some business owners said street closures and construction have put a big dent in their bottom line.

Victor Agiv, owner of La.Va Cafe, at South and 21st streets, said business dropped about 30 percent this week. He's counted thousands of dollars in lost supplies and damage from the mud and water that filled the cafe's basement.

Still, Agiv said the city's response has been adequate.

"They cleaned it up pretty good," he said. "I'm just concerned when the street is going to reopen."

One block away, perched above what officials call a "washout" - not a "sinkhole" - Kathy Perini's home sits intact, but unlivable. Water filled her basement and much of the first floor, submerging her electrical box.

"It's difficult to be satisfied in a situation like this," said Perini's husband, Kim Millner. The couple is staying with neighbors - and losing rent money while their downstairs tenant stays in a hotel.

"We're trying to work with the city," Perini said, but at this point they have no guarantees of compensation, and their homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding.

It's not yet clear what caused the pipe to burst in Southwest Center City last week. Crews had already removed the burst portion of the water line, and on Monday evening they extracted another segment from the gaping hole in the street.

"You can see it's a sound pipe," Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug said as he surveyed the cast-iron pipe. With no visible evidence of damage or weakness, he speculated that the break was caused by "an outside force or point of corrosion."

Neukrug was accompanied Monday by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Mayor Nutter, who sought to reassure residents and business owners that they would keep close watch on the problem.

Crews were walking through the underground pipes, measuring for movement. If any of the segments have shifted, Neukrug said, they may have to tear up more of the street and realign the pipes.

"It's like a nuclear power plant, if it moves a millimeter and then you fill in high-pressure water," you're going to have a problem, he said.

Contact Jessica Parks at 215-854-2771 or

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