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Water woes wreak havoc in Midtown Atlanta. Crisis reaches fourth day puts mayor under fire

In World
June 03, 2024

Crews continued to work on a broken main on West Peachtree Street in Midtown, with nearby residents warned of impacts to their water service as the crisis reached its fourth day Monday.

Water had been gushing out of the main, one of two significant breaks in Atlanta, until Monday morning, when workers were seen pumping out water.

“Attention residents! There will be an interruption of water services for essential maintenance,” the city of Atlanta wrote early Monday, adding that crews were shutting off a pair of 36-inch and 30-inch water mains. “The impacted areas include: 11th St. from West Peachtree St. to Peachtree St. and West Peachtree St. from 10th St. to 12th St.”

Located across from the break on West Peachtree is Steamhouse Lounge, which will have to remain closed Monday, said owner Sam Weyman. He said he’s tried without luck to speak to police and city officials about the situation.

“Nothing was happening (Sunday), nothing, zero, nothing, nothing,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday morning, before heading to where the work was being done.

After hours of little to no communication early on from city officials following the numerous water main breaks in Atlanta, Mayor Andre Dickens spoke at a press conference along West Peachtree as crews worked behind him. But the mayor did not take any questions and was ushered away after a resident asked for a timetable for repairs.

Mayor Andre Dickens was on the scene in Atlanta of the water main breaks but did not take questions at a press conference.

Mayor Andre Dickens was on the scene in Atlanta of the water main breaks but did not take questions at a press conference.

Dickens has faced criticism for making his first public appearance on Saturday afternoon, about 24 hours after many city residents started facing reduced water pressure or no service at all.

Acknowledging frustrations from residents over the lack of information, Atlanta City Council member Antonio Lewis said Monday that his team will adjust its communication strategy going forward.

“I think that the look ahead is to start fixing our water issues and infrastructure now,” he said in an interview with WSB radio.

During the press conference, officials did not offer a timeline for when repairs would be completed, and water restored to surrounding buildings. Lewis defended the city’s water department earlier in the morning, saying crews were working tirelessly to fix the breaks, and noted the aging pipes.

The ones that burst at the intersection at Joseph E. Boone Boulevard near J.P. Brawley Drive, the other major break, were made out of steel and more than 80 years old, said Al Wiggins Jr., commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management.

City officials said Monday that fixing a leak requires an arduous process of draining the ruptured area, making the repairs, then slowly waiting for the system to refill through the pipes to confirm that the fix holds against the restoring water pressure. Each step in the process takes multiple hours to accomplish. Original repairs Friday to the burst on Joseph E. Boone, which happened at a crucial junction point of multiple water lines, weren’t successful, which took crews and city officials by surprise.

The geyser that occurred later in the weekend at 11th and West Peachtree created even greater challenges. City officials said that the valve to turn off the rushing water was directly underneath the break on the surface and they made the call to let the flow continue instead of shutting off the water again to the entire area. On Sunday, Wiggins said authorities don’t know what caused that break, though they don’t believe it is connected to the other major one at Boone Boulevard.

Lewis said he understood the water issues in the city firsthand. Two years ago, he said pipes broke at his office along Cleveland Avenue and took almost a year to fix. Lewis said he would request a full report from the department at today’s 1 p.m. City Council meeting, which generally starts with public comment.

“The future is now,” he added. “Our goal, my goal, is to get out ahead of there.”

Lewis added that he’s encouraged that voters recently approved a continuation of the Municipal Optional Sales Tax. The longstanding 1% sales tax funds water and sewer projects for another four years.

The Atlanta school system has canceled summer school and summer programs today due to the ongoing mess.

In brighter news, Emory University Hospital Midtown and Grady Memorial Hospital announced that things are getting back to normal as did Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Megan Thee Stallion was able to take the stage Sunday at State Farm Arena after Friday and Saturday night shows had to be canceled, and Atlanta United’s soccer match against Charlotte went on as planned at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, albeit with limited food and beverage options.

As the water woes continued, authorities announced Sunday that they were investigating another potential water main break at 1190 Atlantic Drive. A six-inch main was also shut off at Euclid and North avenues to complete emergency repairs there.

“Water service has been restored to 35 homes and four hydrants,” the department said of that break.

The boil water advisory for customers near Boone Boulevard could be lifted as soon as Monday if Atlanta gets authorization from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division. On Sunday, residents were seen using a bucket to scoop water gushing from a broken pipe near 11th Street.

On the doorstep of the Residence Inn Marriott in Midtown, Atlanta Watershed crews taped off West Peachtree Street on Monday morning. Travelers staying in the hotel don’t have water, but they have a good view of West Peachtree Street’s underbelly. Several excavators transferred mud into dump trucks that left a trail of brown water in their wake as they drove away. A pipe was seen being unloaded off a truck next to the broken main. Road barriers and caution tape also disrupted the usual path of pedestrians and passing vehicles, some of whom turned around in frustration when realizing their path was blocked.

One man on a scooter asked reporters and watershed workers, “Is this still going on?” before shaking his head and making a U-turn to find a detour.

Jazmen Dean, who lives in an apartment along West Peachtree, said her friends came over in droves this weekend to use her shower, since she wasn’t impacted by the water outages.

That situation reversed Monday and she found herself heading to her friend’s place to use their bathroom after pilates class. Prior to moving from Washington D.C. in February, Dean said she had never experienced any water issues. The engineer was annoyed at the lack of an action plan and clarity from city leaders.

“It’s a damper on the city, especially for this to be in Midtown,” she said. “The biggest thing we want is just an explanation.”

The disaster is also having a widespread financial impact. Google’s office tower at 1105 West Peachtree closed Monday because of the break. Atlanta area resident Lisa Loomis, meanwhile, said her relatives have closed two restaurants since Friday, which included Steamhouse.

“All the staff loses out on the weekend, not just the business itself,” she said.

West End Soul Kitchen owner Martin Mendes said his business was returning to normal and serving up the specialties he has made for the past four years. When water service stopped Friday and Saturday, he switched to a limited menu.

“This community is on the lower (economic) end of things, people are struggling just to get by,” Mendes said. “It put people here in a bad situation.”

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said they have provided guidance and support to help expedite the repairs, along with connecting the city with state and federal resources.

“We continue to collaborate on overall response and communication,” he added.

After Dickens declared a state of emergency to free up resources for repairs over the weekend and the city activated a joint operations center, there were some signs things were getting better.

This story is made possible through a news partnership with The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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