Burst water main turns SE 42nd Avenue into a raging river

Thanks to quick action by water workers, you’ll be amazed to learn how quickly they turned that river into a trickle – and restored full service to residents …

Lou Tayler talks with neighbors as they watch water pour out of the pavement at SE 42nd Avenue and SE Henderson Street in Woodstock, before the water was shut off.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A cracked eight-inch water main break turned several inner SE Portland residential streets in the Woodstock neighborhood into torrential rivers on September 12. But, prompt and professional action taken by Portland Water Bureau workers limited the damage to homes and roads.

“I was on my way home for work just after 4 p.m.,” neighbor Lou Tayler tells us on scene. “As I drove east on SE Henderson St. from SE 39th Ave., I saw yellow tape across the road. When I first arrived, there were torrents of water, with high, rolling waves, going down both Henderson and 42nd. The water was starting to get deep down by the church.”

As a Portland Water Bureau worker turns off water valves, the amount of water flowing out of the pavement is reduced to a trickle.

Water gushes from pavement
The street’s pavement had heaved up to a considerable height, adds Tayler. “A neighbor told me a SUV drove up the street before the police arrived and literally sunk down, pushing the asphalt back down. Then, the water really started gushing out of the street.”

Gordon Weiler walks up the street and looks on, as Portland Water Bureau crews assess the situation. “I knew it was serious when we saw dirt, gravel, and then rocks being washed down past my home at SE Henderson St. to SE 39th Avenue. As a retired pipe-fitter, I had a pretty good idea of what was happening.”

Water worker stems the flood
Within minutes, the raging river turns into a steady stream; moments later, water now merely trickles down the street.

“I was on SW Barbor Boulevard when I got the call at 3:50 p.m.” says Jonathan Georgeades, as 16-year Portland Water Bureau (PWB) veteran, wiping the sweat from his brow. “I started cranking shut-off valves [in the street] immediately.”

By 4:30 p.m., Georgeades had closed eight valves in the affected area. “On an 8-inch water main, each valve takes about 27 turns. It’s a real workout; they haven’t been turned in a while. But, they did what they were supposed to do.”

“The intersection is buckled,” Georgeades explains, “because the paved street holds the water beneath it. As the water flows downhill, it lifts the asphalt, and it cracks open. Under those buckles, sinkholes and other damage can occur, if the street isn’t properly repaired.

Tricia Knoll, PIO for Portland Water Bureau, and Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard get a first-hand report on the incident from neighbor Gordon Weiler.

Randy Leonard, Commissioner of the Portland Water Bureau, came by to take a look at the crew’s progress on his way home from downtown Portland. Leonard refers us to PWB spokesperson, Tricia Knoll, saying, “She’s the best P.I.O. in the city. I’m just here for moral support!”

“The first thing we do, after shutting down the water flow,” Knoll explains, “is call for a ‘utility locate’. We must locate all under-street utilities, so we don’t hit gas lines or interrupt other utilities when we dig.”

Within the hour, a full PWB crew is ripping into SE 42nd Avenue’s pavement, about 100 feet north of Henderson. The only water flowing down the streets now is from the pump that evacuated the hole being carefully dug by the bureau’s back-hoe operator.

“There is a horizontal crack in an 8-inch cast-iron water main,” confirms Knoll. “This main was installed in 1944. A lot of the pipe installed at that time was a little bit thinner than what was installed before WW2. We may never know the reason the pipe broke today.”

Water service restored within hours
At first, about 25 homes were affected by the shutdown, Knoll reports. “We’re now having ‘dirty water’ calls. If this happens in your home or business, see www.portlandonline.com/water/blog. It has a direct link about what to do if there is main break in your area.”

By 6:30 p.m., the crew restores water to all but four houses in the area. By 1:00 a.m., the water main is repaired, and service is restored.

Dig we must! The PWB crew has full service restored within nine hours.

Not so with the affected intersection. How long the road there will remain closed is unknown at this time.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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