ST. GEORGE — When Jessica White saw the fountain of muddy water breaking through the pavement in front of her house, she said her first thought was, “Oh, it’s happening again.”
A city water line had burst in front of the White home for the second time in less than two years, and in almost the exact spot as the previous break. The latest main break, which was reported around 6:10 p.m on Tuesday, brought responders from the St. George Fire Department and St. George City as well as good Samaritans from the neighborhood.
Firefighters closed off a section of 300 South between 300 West and Bluff Street, and city workers rushed to shut off water supplying the pipe. David Cordero, communications director for the city of St. George, said the shut-off affected five city blocks and was expected to last four-five hours.
“We appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience as we work to get this fixed,” Cordero said.
The break was attributed to aging infrastructure, with workers citing concerns with older pipes in historic neighborhoods. The explanation was all too familiar to White and her husband as it echoed the same concerns voiced during earlier repairs.
“I remember when they came to fix it before, the crew was working all night to fix it because they had to turn off the whole block’s water,” White said. “I remember them saying how bad the pipes were under these downtown roads and how they needed to be replaced.”
Because of the location of the break, the White’s home and many of their neighbors were spared any water damage, but residents just a block or two southeast weren’t so lucky. Where street gutters were overgrown or insufficiently high, particularly on 300 West, the racing floodwaters flowed into driveways and under garage doors.
Allie and Audrey Bruce were on vacation from California visiting Allie’s mother at her new home when the water entered her garage. It actually ended up flowing all the way through into the backyard as the Bruce family worked to move furniture and pull up carpet as quickly as they could.
Audrey Bruce said the immediate response from the neighborhood was almost as surprising as the unexpected flood.
“We had neighbors from a few streets over see the water on their street, and they jumped in and helped my husband build this dam and then helped the neighbor next door,” she said. “It was really cool seeing people come down and help. It was awesome.”
In the case of a break like this, the most immediate threat to residents’ safety is the possibility of a street collapsing beneath a pedestrian or motorist – something that firefighters work hard to prevent.
Capt. Rick Nelson with the St. George Fire Department said the pressure and quantity of escaping water can hollow out solid ground beneath a road or sidewalk, making a deceptively treacherous patch of ground in the vicinity of the water line.
“We show up. We try to set up a safe zone, find out where the incident is coming from and try to keep people away from it to begin with,” he said. “We move cars out of the way so we don’t have a problem with collapse, and we help people be smart. Everybody wants to look and see what’s going on, but we want them to do that from a safe distance.”
By the time water stopped flowing shortly after 7 p.m., a track of mud and sand traced the water’s route downhill for several blocks. There was still a great deal of cleanup and repair work to be done, but Cordero said it’s expected that services would be restored sometime Tuesday night.
“It’s unfortunate that it happens, but luckily our city is very prepared for these things,” Nelson said. “We have hundreds of miles of water lines under our streets, and this kind of stuff happens occasionally.”
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