Dry faucets in Baltimore County

Kids celebrate a day off from school, but breaks in water mains stress adults

March 18, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes, Sara Neufeld and Laurie Willis | Stephanie Hanes, Sara Neufeld and Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

At the About Faces Day Spa and Salon in Pikesville, women brought jugs of water from home so a stylist could color their hair. At Northwest Animal Hospital, a veterinarian used bottled water to operate on a King Charles spaniel. And at T.G.I. Friday's - the rare Owings Mills business that had water yesterday - a trio of teen-agers celebrated their unexpected day off from school.

But for Tom Moser Jr., the water main break that left a large part of Baltimore County dry for a day was pure hassle.

The self-employed landscaper and handyman couldn't shower away the grime from Tuesday's workday, couldn't find a place to buy a cup of morning coffee.

And when he went to pick up the lumber he needed for a job yesterday, the Home Depot in Owings Mills was closed.

The dry pipes, he said, "put a hurting on independent workers."

By early last night, one of two broken mains had been repaired. Water service was expected to be restored to most of the affected area by 10 p.m. or, in the case of outlying areas, by sunrise today.

The problems began Monday, when a 36-inch line broke. Water was rerouted to a 54-inch main - which broke Tuesday night.

"The unthinkable essentially happened," said Jay Sakai, chief of the city Public Works Department's Bureau of Water and Wastewater.

Different materials

The 36-inch main, a cast iron pipe, was broken at a joint, meaning that shifting ground was the likely cause, said Kurt Kocher, a city Public Works spokesman. The 54-inch main is made of pre-stressed concrete, and officials have had problems with reinforcement wiring on those types of pipes, Kocher said.

The disruption came in the final days of winter, one of the peak seasons for water main breaks. Most breaks occur when the temperature is below freezing or the weather is extremely hot. Pipes crack when the ground contracts in the cold and expands in the heat.

After the second pipe broke Tuesday night, as many as 200,000 people - in Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Randallstown, parts of Pikesville and other areas of northwestern Baltimore County - were without running water, Public Works officials estimated.

Quest for water

Customers swarmed grocery stores hoping to get the last bottles of water, and fire stations put large water tankers on standby. Residents crashed friends' and family's homes for showers, and Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown trucked in thousands of gallons of water to keep operating.

Schools shut down - in some cases after students had already begun to arrive.

The Baltimore County school system's decision to close 34 schools in the area did not come until after 7 a.m., when buses were already on their way.

"I don't see why a decision wasn't made before," said Bob Walker, whose sixth-grade daughter, Lucy, got on the bus yesterday morning for Franklin Middle School, only to have it turn around and bring her back. "They knew all night there was no water."

School system spokesman Douglas J. Neilson said school district officials called the Baltimore Public Works department at 12:30 a.m., 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.

Each time, he said, "we were told recovery was imminent."

But Kocher, the city Public Works Department spokesman, said he did not know where that information came from. He said it was clear Tuesday evening that the water department could not estimate when service would be restored.

Rejoice and eat

There was no controversy for 15-year-old Marley Davis and her two friends, Rebecca Feldman, 15, and Ashleigh Bloom, 16.

When Feldman and Bloom drove up to Franklin High School a little after 7 a.m., they found fellow students shooting silly string, laughing and generally cheering the surprise free day.

"Everybody was celebrating," said Feldman, who by 11:30 was ordering lunch with the other girls in T.G.I. Friday's.

A day off from school was well worth the lack of showers, the teens agreed.

The adult world found less cause to celebrate.

Fitness centers and coffee shops were closed. Kids off from school needed to be taken care of. Businesses suffered - Linwood's/Due restaurant in Owings Mills, for instance, lost more than $7,000 in revenue, manager Lisa Mullis estimated.

And on top of everything, workplace bathrooms were in short supply.

Clifton Rorie Jr., a technician at Jiffy Lube on Liberty Road in Randallstown, had to clock out for 30 minutes and go to his aunt's house to use the bathroom.

"I would have went to Taco Bell, but they're out, too," he said.

Gina Navarro and Jennifer Woodring, decorative painters working in a Reisterstown home without water, started looking around shops for a bathroom about 11 a.m.

"We figure they have one flush left," Navarro said of her client's home. "We didn't want to use it."

Little to spare

But few businesses along Reisterstown Road had any water to spare.

That included the About Faces Day Spa, where Wednesdays are usually particularly busy, said Shari Scheuermann, the assistant manager.

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