Washed out

The Baltimore Sun

A huge water main break caused extensive flooding in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore early yesterday. Several residences and businesses lost water service or had low pressure, and a city official said it could be two days before the area returns to normal.

The rupture, which occurred about 4 a.m. in the middle of the 100 block of E. Madison St., at Hargrove Alley, turned city streets into fast-rushing streams carrying sand, mud, rocks and chunks of asphalt.

The city's Office of Emergency Management set up a command post to coordinate work by the city Department of Public Works, the Fire Department and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. as city officials expressed concern about the condition of electrical lines, natural gas pipes and a potential collapse of the street, said Kurt Kocher, a public works spokesman.

Kocher said he didn't have a count on the number of businesses and residences that lost all or part of their water service after the 30-inch-wide pipe broke, but he said they appeared to be within a two- to three-block area around the site of the break.

Mass at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church and performances at Centerstage, both in the 700 block of N. Calvert St., were canceled yesterday.

Police closed off some lanes of St. Paul Street and entire sections of Madison and Calvert streets as water gushed down the hill toward Guilford Avenue for several hours. Yesterday afternoon, city officials announced they were closing Calvert Street from Centre to Read streets, and Monument, Madison and Read streets from St. Paul Street to Guilford Avenue. It was unclear when the streets would be reopened.

Also, the city was towing some vehicles on Madison Street that were in the way of emergency work and debris removal. The city said vehicle owners could dial 311 to find out how to get them back. The city was also supplying bottled water to residents and some businesses who called 311 to request it, Kocher said.

The force of the water main break damaged a 50-foot section of asphalt, the spokesman said.

City workers were shutting down valves to stem the flow of water from the broken main so a new section of pipe can be installed.

The six-story State Highway Administration office, at 707 N. Calvert St., had about 2 feet of water in the sub-basement, along with water and mud damage to the basement and the north side of the first floor, said Dave Buck, an SHA spokesman. State vehicles are parked in the sub-basement, but the extent of damage was unclear, he said.

The SHA announced yesterday evening that employees who work in the Calvert Street building and the building at 211 E. Madison St. should stay home today, with the exception of senior managers and communications staffers. The closures will affect about 1,100 state workers, Buck said.

The flooding knocked out a electrical substation, causing about 22 commercial customers to lose power. Power had been restored to most of those customers by yesterday afternoon, BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said.

Water also damaged the Chapel of Grace in the basement of St. Ignatius Church, Kocher said. Church officials couldn't be reached for comment. City workers used pumps to remove the water from the chapel.

A small shopping plaza located on Madison between Calvert and Guilford did not lose water or power, but several of the businesses said they were hurt by the disturbance.

Abhishek Shrestha, a night worker at the 7 Twelve convenience store, said sales were off by about 50 percent yesterday because of the water main break, and a manager at Dunkin' Donuts said his business lost about 80 percent of its Sunday customers.

Shrestha said that if the area is still covered in water today, his store would suffer severely. The Madison Street entrance was closed, and the Guilford Avenue entrance had a stream of water greeting cars as they turned into the plaza. Shrestha said that the closing of the state buildings will hurt.

"My business comes from highway workers and people at the jail," he said.

Shuvro Sunny, the Dunkin' Donuts manager, said the closed exit to the plaza deterred some potential customers.

"It's been very low," Sunny said. "But we understand this is just one of those things that just happens."

Mercy did not lose water service or power, Kocher said.

City officials had not pinpointed the cause of the water main break and couldn't estimate when repairs would begin. Kocher said the city has the supplies needed to do the repair quickly.

"It could be the real cold weather and then the warm weather with the ground shifting, but there also are older pipes around here," he said.

Mayor Sheila Dixon dropped by the scene, surveyed the damage and talked with city workers.

Baltimore Sun reporter Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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