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Atlanta scrambles to stop water crisis from spreading

Robert Watkins waded through the middle of West Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta on Sunday, using a bucket to catch water gushing from a broken pipe near 11th Street.

Appearing tired but determined, he headed toward the normally bustling street near the Soak & Polish Nail Bar, where he thought his bucket, filled to the brim, might come in handy.

“So we can flush the toilet and, you know, the different things we have to do with water,” said Watkins, whose home was also without running water. “We’re praying that they get those water pipes fixed.”

Such surreal scenes played out across the city over the weekend, as Atlanta’s water crisis threatened to expand. Authorities said Sunday they are investigating a potential water main break at 1190 Atlantic Drive NW. During this time, they temporarily shut off a water main at Euclid and North avenues to make emergency repairs.

Residents and businesses in those areas, city officials said, could experience the kind of disruptions that have hit Atlanta since the first water main break was discovered Friday. Concerts have been postponed or canceled. Restaurants and other businesses suffered financial losses. And city residents like Watkins have come up with creative ways to cope.

There were also glimmers of hope on Sunday. City officials announced that water services have been fully restored to the Atlanta Airport, Fulton County Jail, the City of Atlanta Detention Center and several high-rise buildings . Additionally, a boil water notice for customers near Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and James P. Brawley Drive could be lifted as soon as Monday, if Atlanta gets clearance from the Division of Environmental Protection of Georgia, said Al Wiggins Jr., the city’s watershed management department. Commissioner.

“So far we see that the samples look good. The water pressure remained constant,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday.

Georgia EPD said it is in close communication with the city of Atlanta and stands ready to “assist if necessary.”

City officials said they did not know what caused the water main break on West Peachtree Street, although they did not believe it was connected to the water main at Joseph E. Boone Boulevard and James P. Brawley Drive, Wiggins said. Some onlookers jokingly referred to this breakup as the “aqua apocalypse” or the “West Peachtree River.”

“We will not be able to collect samples for the West Peachtree area and 11th Street until we complete the repairs,” Wiggins said.

Over the weekend, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens declared a state of emergency to free up resources for repairs, and the city activated a joint operations center. Fire stations are handing out cases of bottled water.

“Our firefighters were out every hour checking on hotels and locations,” said LaChandra Butler Burks, Atlanta operations director. “Our police recruits visited the skyscrapers every hour to check on our elders.”

There are also signs that parts of the city are returning to normal. Megan Thee Stallion’s performance Sunday night was scheduled to go ahead as planned at State Farm Arena. Atlanta United’s soccer match against Charlotte was also scheduled to take place as scheduled Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but with limited food and beverage options.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was operating normally after reporting low water pressure in some of its restrooms Saturday.

Emory University Hospital in Midtown released a statement Sunday saying it was “moving to normal operations.” Ambulances have also returned to normal service and the hospital will be able to operate on regular schedules for outpatient doctor appointments, procedures and surgeries on Monday.

Grady Memorial also released a statement Sunday: “Water service to Grady has been restored and water pressure has increased significantly. We will continue to provide bottled water to patients and staff while we remain under a boil water advisory. All patient appointments, procedures and surgeries will return to normal on Monday, June 3.

We are grateful to our team, who have done their best to keep patients safe and continue to provide exceptional care during this time. We also appreciate the work of the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management to address this issue.

Nationally, a water main break occurs every two minutes and about 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost every day, enough to fill more than 9,000 swimming pools, according to a 2021 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That report gave the country’s drinking water infrastructure a C-, up from a D in 2017. The improvement came, the report said, as water agencies significantly accelerated their pace of replacing water pipes. ‘water.

Atlanta’s woes underscore the importance of investing in and maintaining such infrastructure, said Tom Dobbins, chief executive of the Washington-based Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.

“It highlights the essential role of water in our lives,” he said in an interview Sunday, adding, “My heart goes out to the people of Atlanta for what they are going through.”

Pam Burnett, executive director of the Georgia Water Professionals Association, said she is heartbroken by the crisis in Atlanta.

“Water professionals, like health professionals, make every effort to ‘stop the bleeding’ in an emergency situation to prevent the crisis from getting worse,” she said. written in an email. “Of course, we hope that the line break can be brought under control quickly and that the public can follow in sufficient detail to explain the situation.

“Major and multiple line breaks are incredibly rare and difficult to resolve, and it’s frustrating for the public…and especially hard on the water professionals working in the trenches, with everyone above them. They who get angry.

Atlanta-area resident Lisa Loomis said her loved ones have closed two restaurants since Friday, one in Glenwood Park and one on West Peachtree Street.

“It’s all the staff who lose out on the weekend, not just the company itself,” she said.

Atlanta scrambles to stop water crisis from spreading

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

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Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

Other companies have had better luck. Despite a large stream of water flowing outside McCray’s Tavern Midtown in West Peachtree, Sunday brunch continued. Manager Mauricio Tarver said the tavern was on another water line that was not affected.

“We missed it,” he said, sounding grateful. “Was good.”

Stan Reecy, who had just returned from his honeymoon in South Africa, was dismayed to discover he was among the Midtown Atlanta homeowners subject to a boil water advisory. The water main break on West Peachtree Street is about 500 feet from his home.

Stan Reecy, a Midtown resident, is seen Sunday outside a broken water main at the corner of 11th Street and West Peachtree Street.

Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

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Credit: David Aaro / David.Aaro@ajc.com

On Sunday he stood outside the Eleventh Street pub, where a window appeared to have been shattered by the burst water pipe. A wooden board has now replaced this window. Security guards monitored the entrance.

“It’s definitely a little shocking to see it right next to my house,” he said.

By Sunday afternoon, water was flowing again in the West End neighborhood, but the previous two days had been difficult, especially for Derrick Avery. For six years, Avery and her family have lived in Rose Circle, near White Street, but this weekend they had to leave for her mother’s house in Greenbriar so her family could use the restroom. They took pots of water to fill them.

Avery has eight children, ranging in age from 1 to 14. The baby was doing well, but it was difficult to care for the younger ones without water, he said. Because they were unable to cook, the family was forced to go out to eat, which unexpectedly put a $200 dent in the family budget.

When the water stopped flowing Friday, Avery called the city’s non-emergency 311 number, staying on hold for an hour before hanging up. He said he was never able to reach anyone for answers. It wasn’t practical, he said, “but we made it work.”

Nearby, on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and across from the West End Mall, hairstylists Jacqueline Glover and Travis Campbell worked hard to make up for the lack of business the previous two days.

“It felt like the pandemic was starting again,” said Campbell, who has worked in the West End area for 16 years, including the last few years at The Suites at West End.

When the water slowed Friday, the two men tried to continue working as best they could, using bottled water to rinse out shampoo and hair dye. The stylists bought about 20 gallons of water to try to keep going. But they were eventually forced to close.

“Fridays and Saturdays are important to us. It really hurt us and our customers,” Glover said.

Around the corner, Martin Mendes, owner of West End Soul Kitchen, said his business is getting back to normal and serving the specialties he’s been making for the past four years. When water service stopped Friday and Saturday, it switched to a limited menu.

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

AJC writers Christopher A. Daniel, Janel Davis and Helena Oliviero contributed to this report.

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