DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — DeKalb County watershed officials said damage to a storm sewer may have caused a massive water main along Buford Highway to break early Wednesday, sending billions of gallons of water into the road and surrounding businesses.
The 48-inch main is one of four transmission lines that serves the county’s drinking water. Watershed officials said Wednesday evening that, as far as they could tell, a 60-foot section of the main needed to be repaired, but they won’t know for sure until they get everything dried up.
"We won't know until we get the hole completely de-watered and all utilities exposed," acting director of DeKalb County Watershed Management Reggie Wells said.
Wells said crews were “making substantial progress,” and that crews had isolated the break.
“We hope to have the line repaired in the next day or so. We plan to work around the clock and won’t stop until we do just that,” Wells said.
Watershed officials told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant that water pressure has been restored to many portions of the county, and other areas continued to see increases in pressure throughout the evening.
“Minutes are like hours. It’s a stressful situation until you can ultimately get it isolated and pressure start to recover in your system,” Wells said.
A boil water advisory was issued for all of DeKalb County in the wake of the main break Wednesday. Wells said it could be days before that advisory is lifted.
Wells said that, once the line is completely fixed, which Watershed Management hoped to have done within the next 48 hours, the water will be tested. Once it comes back safe, the advisory will be lifted.
“We really want people to take this seriously, because if there’s a contaminant in the water, that’s why we put this out,” DeKalb County EMA Director Sue Loeffler said.
A large section of Buford Highway was closed for most of the day Wednesday, finally reopening shortly after 5 p.m.
Wells said there was no structural damage done to the roadway in the aftermath of the main break and the road was deemed safe to drive on.
Now, crews will be working around the clock to fix the 60-foot section of the main that collapsed.
DEKALB'S INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEMS
DeKalb County's watershed department has faced infrastructure problems that have led to federal oversight in recent months.
Leaders told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that Wednesday's water main break wasn't a part of a main line they were ever worried about.
On Wednesday, Carr found out the line is only 20 years old and it has received maintenance in recent years. It would not have raised a flag to government leaders who have identified aging pipelines for repair using a system that's cut out the need to bring several contractors into the mix.
“This wasn't an example of neglect of the system or an existing vulnerability that we knew we had,” DeKalb County Commission Chair Jeff Rader told Carr.
"It was a structural failure, it wasn't an aging line. According to supervisors on the scene, it's a relatively new line," Thurmond said.
Thurmond released a statement earlier in the day promising a full investigation into the main break:
“The DeKalb County government will initiate a full-scale investigation into the cause of today's massive water main break. We will determine whether the break was the result of a systematic failure, improper maintenance, wear and tear or physical tampering. I am committed to making sure our infrastructure is protected and maintained in a manner that will ensure quality service to the citizens of DeKalb County.”
The water main break was likely to have affected hundreds of thousands of people.
Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland found a similar pipe that is vital to Cobb County's water system.
The fairly new pipe is 4 1/2-feet wide and officials say under equal pressure, it'll carry about 25 percent more water than the DeKalb County pipe that broke.
Cobb officials told Strickland that the pipe can carry the water for 500,000 people.
“We have the ability to serve over half of the county, half of our service area,” Cobb-Marietta Authority general manager Glenn Page told Strickland as he showed him the new pipe that now crosses over Sope Creek.
The pipe serves as an artery for Cobb County’s water system from the water treatment plant just a short distance away.
“You have forces working against the material of that pipe all the time,” Page said. “You could have a contractor that hit the pipe, covered it up and it could fail later sometimes even years later.
MAIN BREAK IMPACTS SCHOOLS
The main break affected a multitude of services across the county, including hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, businesses and schools.
The CDC announced Thursday night that its campus would be closed Thursday because of the water main break.
DeKalb County Schools said they would return back to a normal schedule Thursday, but the district would be implementing measures to make sure they follow the boil water advisory, including shutting off drinking fountains, until the advisory is lifted.
The water main broke in the midst of students already heading to school so there wasn't enough time to cancel classes for the district Wednesday. Students were sent home early.
Channel 2's Tyisha Fernandes stopped at Stone Mountain Elementary School where she spoke to a 3rd grader with her mother's permission and she said what her teachers were saying about the short day of school.
"They said we have to get ready to leave because the water wasn’t working, no one could use the bathroom because if they flushed it, it would get stopped up," said Teyuanna Mitchell.
8:56 p.m.: Georgia Piedmont Technical College's DeKalb Campus and Starnes Center will re-open Thursday morning. Water pressure is being restored to both sites following the water main break on Buford Highway, and facilities is working to flush the college's systems throughout tonight and tomorrow.
6:20 p.m.: CDC announces their campuses will be closed Thursday due to water main break:
5:58 p.m.: DeKalb County Schools say they will have class on Thursday:
"After consulting with local government and health officials, the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) will reopen on Thursday, March 8, 2018.
“We have been in constant dialogue with our partners at DeKalb County and the DeKalb County Board of Health. Following that consultation, we will reopen our campuses while taking great care to ensure we have a healthy learning environment,” said Superintendent/CEO R. Stephen Green. “We have a good plan that covers sanitation, food service and other aspects of our operations impacted by the water event today. We’ll be ready for our students.”
“As importantly, we ask each of our partners and patrons to contribute or donate water, and perhaps hand sanitizers, directly to our campuses,” Green added. “For many reasons, having an abundant supply of drinking water throughout the day is important.“
5:02 p.m.: DeKalb County said all lanes of Buford Highway have reopened
5:00 p.m.: DeKalb County just released this statement about the main break:
"DeKalb County Watershed Management has mobilized a contractor and delivered equipment to the site of the 48-inch water main that broke earlier Wednesday morning near Buford Highway. County crews are assessing the damage and removing debris so repair work can begin.
"The cleanup of Buford Highway is 85 percent complete and portions of the road are estimated to reopen shortly. Georgia Department of Transportation crews are onsite evaluating the roadway.
"Though water pressure continues to increase in the county, a boil water advisory is still in effect. All customers that have experienced water outages and/or low water pressures are advised to boil all water prior to use for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby food. The water should be boiled for at least one minute after reaching a rolling boil. Customers should continue to boil their water until they are notified that the water system has been restored to full operation, and that the microbiological quality of the water in the distribution system is safe for human consumption."
4:52 p.m.: Channel 2 crews say it appears southbound lanes of Buford Highway have reopened to traffic. One northbound lane is open as well.
4:50 p.m.: Channel 2's Aaron Diamant tweeted that it appears officials are close to reopening Buford Highway:
3:28 p.m.: DeKalb County CEO has released the following statement about the water main break:
“The DeKalb County Government will initiate a full-scale investigation into the cause of today's massive water main break. We will determine whether the break was the result of a systematic failure, improper maintenance, wear and tear or physical tampering. I am committed to making sure our infrastructure is protected and maintained in a manner that will ensure quality service to the citizens of DeKalb County.”
2:40 p.m.: Toilets wouldn't flush and water pressure was low at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital complex on Clairmont Road, but critical medical operations were not affected. A VA spokesman said the same conditions existed at the veterans health system's clinics and offices in DeKalb until about 12:20 p.m.
2:35 p.m.: Water pressure returned to all DeKalb fire stations. "Eight water tankers are still stationed throughout the county to assist with fire protection and to fill chillers at hospitals," DeKalb officials said in a statement. "The DeKalb County Emergency Operations Center remains open."
2:19 p.m.: Emory University will reopen at 5 p.m.
“DeKalb County has been working to address the water main break and water pressure on campus is returning to normal,” the university said in a tweet. “DeKalb County has continued the countywide boil water advisory for residents.”
1:30 p.m.: Pressure is slowly being restored throughout the county. "Despite restoration," officials wrote in a statement, "DeKalb County Watershed customers are still under a boil water advisory."
People are advised to “boil” all water prior to use for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby food. The water should be boiled for at least one minute after reaching a rolling boil.
1:08 p.m.: With the exception of the Lawrenceville facility, the CDC is closed, spokeswoman Kathryn Harben told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
12:40 p.m.: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is conserving water by making adjustments to operations at Egleston and several neighborhood locations in DeKalb, officials said. Inpatient care has not been affected at Egleston.
12:38 p.m.: Shoppers at Publix at Town Brookhaven purchased the majority of bottled water on the normally well-stocked shelves.
“It’s DeKalb County,” Brookhaven resident Linda Young said as she put jugs of water in her shopping cart. “You never know how long it’ll take them to fix it.”
11:20 a.m.: DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond says they hope to have Buford Highway by rush hour Wednesday, and water restored within 24 hours.
11:15 a.m.: Officials say the boil water advisory does not affect DeKalb County residents who use City of Atlanta water.
11 a.m.: Crews giving updates on the water main break in news conference-- WATCH BELOW
11 a.m.: Perimeter Mall is closed due to the main break and will remain closed until service is restored.
10 a.m.: Georgia's Department of Transportation said water has subsided on Buford Highway and cleanup has begun.
9 a.m.: A boil water advisory is issued for all of DeKalb County due to the water main break
8 a.m.: Schools begin to announce closures, dismissals due to water main break.
Triple Team Traffic's Mark Arum said water began flowing onto the highway in Doraville before 4:30 a.m., and crews were able to turn off water several hours later.
The break occurred in a 48-inch transmission main in the 5700 block of Buford Highway in Doraville Wednesday morning.
A boil water advisory has been issued for all of DeKalb County due to the water main break.
They are asked to boil water for at least one minute after water comes to a rolling boil prior to drinking, cooking or preparing any baby food.
Crews have not given an estimate of how long water will be turned off for or when the water main break will be repaired and roads will reopen.
- City of Decatur Schools announced they will close Wednesday because of the county-wide water outage.
- DeKalb County Schools alerted parents they would be dismissing students early due to no water in the building: Elementary schools at 10 a.m., middle schools at 12:15 p.m., and high schools at 11:15 a.m.
- Avondale, Briarlake, Henderson Mill, Warren Tech, Huntley Hills, Jolly, William Bradley Bryant Center, Sam Moss, Hambrick, Chamblee High School, Midway/ISC, Indian Creek, Stone Mountain ES, Evansdale, Kingsley, Champion, and DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts.
- DeKalb Medical Center said it will reschedule surgeries due to low water pressure.
Cox Media Group