ST. GEORGE — A St. George woman awoke early Friday morning to thousands of tiny rocks hitting her home. As her home began to flood with water, the woman initially thought a powerful hail and rainstorm was passing over St. George.
“I looked out and, all of a sudden, water just started pouring down off the roof and I thought, ‘boy, I’ve never seen a rainstorm like this, ever – especially coming really from one direction,’” Pam Thornton said. “And I kept saying, ‘Alright rain, let up’ – and it didn’t.”
When the ordeal began around 4:15 a.m., Thornton first thought her home, at 55 East and 700 South, was being pelted with hail, but it didn’t take long before she realized that the water entering her residence wasn’t the result of a rainstorm.
“I started getting some towels,” Thornton said, “and then (the water) started coming in over the top of the sliding doors and then, at that point, I thought, ‘OK, this is something that I can’t handle, I’ve gotta call 911.’”
What Thornton didn’t know at the time was that her residence was being flooded by a City of St. George water main that had ruptured and was shooting a 30-foot geyser of water into the air from the street in front of her home.
Thornton’s patio filled with a foot and a half of water which subsequently flooded her entire home, she said. Water was dripping from the ceiling and coming out of light fixtures, the fireplace and electrical outlets on the wall.
Thornton and her husband, Morgan Thornton, had just finished remodeling the interior of their townhome with new carpet and paint after purchasing the home five months ago, Pam Thornton said.
Austin Hunter, a lead technician at Servpro St. George who responded to the scene Friday morning, said the townhome was completely flooded.
“It’s going to need some serious restoration,” Hunter said, “but we should be able to get it all done. The carpet and the pad is soaked (and) all of her furniture – most of the walls will need flood cuts as well.”
The cleanup company told the Thorntons that all of the carpet and padding, along with part of the insulation and drywall – up to about 2 feet – will likely have to be torn out and replaced to prevent mold. Now, the couple is left wondering who, if anyone, is going to help cover the costs.
“Well, the city told us, ‘we’re sorry, it’s an act of God,’ it’s all up to us to take care of it,” Morgan Thornton said. “It’s their opinion that it was a natural occurrence that their water main ruptured.”
Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager of St. George, confirmed that the city considers these situations an “act of God” and that the city isn’t responsible to cover the costs of any damages incurred as a result of the water main break.
“An act of God is actually, it’s an unforeseen occurrence,” Mortensen said. “… Changing conditions in the soil that causes a pipe to erode and explode, causes flooding in certain areas, yeah, I mean, it’s an unforeseen – it’s not something that we could have predicted or controlled.”
In this case, Mortensen said, the city would assume the homeowner’s insurance will pick up the damage cost. He said the city hasn’t paid for this sort of thing in the past and that it’s a very rare occurrence when it goes to litigation.
The city received the call of a waterline break at approximately 5 a.m., Mortensen said. A water crew responded to the scene at 55 East within 15-20 minutes and shut off the water.
Workers were able to patch the initial leak in the waterline, Mortensen said, but when water pressure was reapplied, another leak formed so crews capped both ends of the line and will replace the entire section of line next week.
Only two homes are served on the particular section of line involved and the Thorntons home isn’t one of them. Those customers served by the line were without water from about 5:20-11 a.m., Mortensen said, when crews were able to backfeed the water another way to those two homes.
The city’s pipes
The waterlines in the area are approximately 45 years old, Mortensen said, and were installed sometime between 1965 and 1970. The last time the city had a waterline break near that area was in 2010.
According to the City of St. George’s website, the water distribution division operates and maintains over 850 miles of pipeline – ranging from 2-inch to 72-inch in diameter – 22 water storage tanks, 16 booster pump stations, 23 wells and over 15,000 valves. Approximately 50 million gallons of water are delivered to its customers during a peak summer day, and nearly 10 billion gallons are delivered on an annual basis.
Mortensen said the city averages about 28-30 waterline breaks per year, which he said is less than half the national average.
“We think we do a very good job of maintaining the infrastructure citywide,” Mortensen said.
The city utilizes a software system in which it monitors breaks – where they occur and what type – and then the city measures and looks at patterns in specific areas, Mortensen said.
“If we see a number of breaks in a particular area, we’ll go in and replace that section of line, and that’s pretty much how we do it,” he said. “Pipes in the ground, you know, we don’t just pull pipes out of the ground because they’re a certain number of years old. … Some pipes can stay, you know, usable and good for well over 100 years. Other pipes we’ve had, after 15 years, they break. It really depends on the soils and what the soil can do to the pipes.”
Nevertheless, the Thorntons still feel the city should be held accountable for the damage caused by its broken pipe that neither located on the Thorntons’ property nor been serving water to the Thornton’s home – until the rupture occurred.
“We’d just like the city to be responsible for any damages that they caused here on this property,” the Thorntons’ son-in-law, Jarad Brinkerhoff, said.
A video, posted online by various members of the Thornton family, has been making the rounds on the internet. The video shows some of the aftermath and damage caused by the water main break during a walk-through of the townhome.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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