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Water line break brings flood

Tue., July 17, 2012

North Side residents evacuated when natural gas pipe ruptures

When a water main broke Monday afternoon under West Houston Avenue, the pressure shattered asphalt like glass, broke a gas line and opened a 10-foot-wide crater in the road.

Water gushed 3 feet high and turned nearby streets, including West Francis Avenue, into temporary rivers and flooded the basements of at least two houses, witnesses said.

“People were trying to drive down the street, and we were trying to stop them,” said Gary Mathis, who lives on Houston near North Belt Street where the water line erupted. “Driving into that would have been like driving into the Spokane River.”

City crews quickly turned off the water, as some residents in the area were evacuated while Avista workers stopped the gas leak, said Spokane Fire Department Battalion Chief Bob Green.

No one was hurt.

Several residents who live along Houston were home when the 12-inch water main broke, and they seemed to be taking the small catastrophe in stride.

One resident joked: “We wanted to go for a swim, but not this bad.”

“We had a ton of kids out here riding bikes. I’m glad it was down there,” said Hollie Brown, pointing toward the east end of her street.

Brown’s son, 5-year-old Kameron, brought Otter Pops to the firefighters.

Meanwhile, city insurance adjusters were on scene to examine damage to homes. About 20 residents were left without water because of the break, city officials said.

Utilities Director Rick Romero expected the water to be restored by this morning.

The city’s Water Department has been without a director since the retirement last month of Frank Triplett, who was an outspoken advocate for updating the city’s aging water infrastructure. Triplett wanted to replace pipe installed in the 1940s with a substitute for lead, as a result of a war-time lead shortage. That material has been prone to breaking and was blamed for a major main break last year on North Perry Street near North Foothills Drive.

The main that broke on Monday, however, was made of cast iron and wasn’t on the city’s radar for needed replacement, Romero said.

“We’ll do an assessment of the pipe in the area and see if this was a unique circumstance or part of a bigger problem,” Romero said.

Romero helped create the city’s new water rates that were approved this year and designed to collect less money than the previous rates. City officials have said the lower rates won’t slow improvements to water infrastructure, adding that they may instead borrow money to complete construction projects and avoid spikes in water rates.

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