Businesses clean up after water-main break in Frankford

At Frankford and Torresdale Avenues , the water-main break left a giant crater. About 23 million gallons of water broke free from the water main. Damage was still being assessed Tuesday. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff
At Frankford and Torresdale Avenues , the water-main break left a giant crater. About 23 million gallons of water broke free from the water main. Damage was still being assessed Tuesday. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff
Posted: December 26, 2013

Expensive cars in the front. Cheap cars in the back.

John Silva's display strategy has worked well in attracting business to his car dealership in Frankford. But on Monday, a major water main broke across the street, sending water gushing into his car lot and other businesses.

"It was all my front line," Silva said Tuesday of his BMW and Mercedes vehicles that were destroyed by the quick-moving current. "My crappy cars were in the back, on the hill. Those were fine."

About 23 million gallons of water broke free from a 106-year-old water main at Frankford and Torresdale Avenues, flooding nearby streets and businesses, including a small ice cream shop and a large CVS. The damage was still being assessed Tuesday.

But business owners estimate that their losses will add up to much more than the city's $500,000 city cap on claims.

Silva said he believes 18 of his vehicles were completely lost, at a total value of $250,000.

Dan Kelly, who owns another dealership further up the street, also had more than a dozen cars that were completely flooded. Each of his cars was valued at between $2,500 and $4,500, he said.

Business owners near Frankford and Torresdale spent most of Tuesday cleaning up the mud left behind by the flood and estimating the damage.

Many said their insurance companies would not cover losses from water damage. They were looking to the city for reimbursement.

"The [city] lady said, 'It's our fault, we're going to pay,' but it's only $500,000 for all the businesses," Kelly said. "Sounds like we might have to hire an attorney."

And it sounds like the aftermath at Frankford and Torresdale will be similar to what happened after a water-main break at 21st and Bainbridge Streets in July 2012.

More than 100 homes and businesses and two utility companies sustained damages in that break, and the claims have so far totaled $2.8 million. A Common Pleas Court judge will determine how the city's $500,000 pot of money is disbursed among the claimants.

The $500,000 cap on the city's total payout in such events is set by state law. State Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) introduced a bill this summer to raise the cap, established in 1980, to $2 million. The bill is sitting in the Judiciary Committee.

Another option for those affected by Monday's water-main break could be two disaster-relief loans offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, said Samantha Phillips, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management. But as of Tuesday afternoon, she said, she did not think the damages were high enough to meet the federal qualification threshold.

One of the SBA's low-interest loans is for physical disasters in which 25 homes or businesses sustain 40 percent or more of uninsured loss. The other is an economic-injury loan available when five or more small businesses demonstrate "disruption to normal business process," Phillips said.

The car dealerships will be "a tough analysis to do," because claims specialists will have to determine the actual value of the cars at the time of the flooding as well as other sale factors, she said.

She said she expects that the city will know whether the businesses qualify for federal aid by the end of the week. As for the city's payout for damages, the process will take much longer.

Those affected by the water-main break have six months to file a claim with the city. Then, if the claims exceed the $500,000 cap, the matter will end up in court, as with the 21st and Bainbridge water-main break.


CVargas@phillynews.com215-854-5520 @InqCVargas

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