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Repairs Continue After Broken Water Main Floods Pilsen Streets

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Pilsen Water Main Break

A water main break flooded Ashland Avenue overnight, and left many basements inundated in Pilsen. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 12/20/11 – 8:53 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Crews have patched a 36-inch water main that ruptured in the Pilsen neighborhood Monday night, but full repairs were still underway and residents were still facing a long cleanup process after homes and businesses were flooded.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the main burst open in front of Benito Juarez Community Academy, 2150 S. Laflin St., around 8:30 p.m. Monday and left the thoroughfare of Ashland Avenue flooded between 18th Street and Cermak Road.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports


“It looked like a fountain,” said Pilsen resident Sherry Sikora.

The break left a hole 3 feet in diameter. Around mid-afternoon on Tuesday, crews had patched the broken main and, by early Tuesday evening, were welding a new 12-foot piece of pipe into place.

As CBS 2′s Suzanne Le Mignot reports, the broken cast iron water main was 84 years old.

Water Management Department Commissioner Thomas Powers said, “It’s a good example of why our aging infrastructure needs to be renewed.”

After installing the new pipe, crews must conduct pressure tests and water quality tests to ensure safety before fully restoring water service to the area.

As CBS 2′s Pamela Jones reports, street sweepers were still working to brush mud off the street Tuesday evening as crews were making repairs to the pipe.

Business owners also were still mopping up the mess that flooded their stores.

“It’s terrible, you know, what happened last night, you know, just with the flood and everything,” said Marco Sarmiento, who runs a mini mart in Pilsen. “Not only that, it’s just losing sales overall.”

The shelves at Sarmiento’s store were fully stocked Tuesday night, but the sign on the door says “closed because of flooding problems.”

He estimated losses from just a couple days being closed could be “a couple thousand dollars.”

In Sikora’s basement, the mud brought in by flooding came up over the top of her dryer. She wants to know if the city will help her recover what she’s lost.

“All they told me was, well, we’re not sure if the city is going to accept responsibility or not. We’ll let you know in a few days,” Sikora said.

While repairs continue, Pilsen resident Agapita Saez and her eight kids expect to spend tonight in the cold.

“We have no gas, as of last night. They cut it off because of the water busted outside,” she said.

Her only consolation has been that, at least her kids’ Christmas gifts didn’t get wet.

After the pipe burst, standing water came up to some people’s calves, or even some people’s knees, but the amount of water on the road had receded by the time the morning rush was approaching. By 5:30 a.m., the water had been reduced mostly to mud and puddles.

But earlier, even though crews shut down 17 valves, the water gushed out so fast that homes and businesses were left flooded.

“There was water block-by-block,” said Water Management Department spokesman Tom LaPorte. “When you have 36 inches of 3-foot-wide pipe that’s pressurized to 38 pounds per square inch, there’s water everywhere, and some of it got into basements.”

One of those who ended up with a flooded basement was Walter Green, who was watching TV when he was alarmed by a noisy racket.

“I went downstairs to hear what the buzzing noise was, and it was my sump pump trying to pump the water out, but the water at that time was maybe ankle high, and then slowly and gradually it just started to rise up, and it reached about just above my waist,” he said.

Green said luckily, he had taken his large-screen TV off the floor in the basement and mounted it on the wall just the day before.

Many of the houses in Pilsen are built a full story below grade, leaving them prone to flooding. At Sikora’s house, the water came about three quarters of the way up the basement door.

“I’m afraid to go in there and open the door and flip a switch, I mean, the washer and dryer are down there. The water heater is down there,” Sikora said, adding that her patio was destroyed by the floodwaters.

Business owners also unlocked their doors Tuesday morning to find damaged property.

“It’s terrible; I mean, devastating, you know?” said business owner Alejandro Moran. “I mean, I’ve been working on the building the last couple of years, you know, we put in new electrical, a new sewer, new gas furnaces – you know, boilers – and it’s flooded. It’s all flooded.”

But Moran said he lost more than just utilities in his building.

“Personal items – clothing, pictures, family albums, furniture, I mean, it’s just devastating having to deal with this,” he said.

The flood was an inconvenience for students at Juarez. Classes were in session on time Tuesday, but the gymnasium floor was damaged, a third of the restrooms were out of service, and the principal said cold lunches would be served.

Water was cut off to one end of the school, although service was never cut to any nearby homes and businesses.

Water Management Department Managing Deputy Commissioner Bill Bresnehan said the cause of the break is not known, but it could be old age. The cast-iron main dates from 1927.

LaPorte explained that many more water main breaks can be expected in Chicago because of the underground infrastructure. There are more than 100,000 miles of cast iron pipes that were put in place between 1890 and1930.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel cited a need to upgrade water delivery infrastructure in his move to increase water and sewer fees in the 2012 city budget.

Powers said, as part of the mayor’s plan, the city will be rebuilding water mains in the Pilsen neighborhood next year. It will mark the beginning of a 10-year effort to replace nearly 1,000 miles of aging water mains in the city.

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