Water main break nightmare will last weeks in Old City

OLD CITY - October 15, 2012

Now two blocks of Walnut St. and two blocks of Third St. are closed, as the Philadelphia Water Department faces a huge repair job.

And it looks like it's going to take a while. Not good news for people who live and work around here.

"It's really difficult for us, for all of us in here," said one person who works in the area.

The intersection erupted into a geyser Saturday afternoon. A water department crew was digging here to uncover the source of a slow leak when a 36-inch main transmission line ruptured. Six million gallons of water gushed into the streets.

"We got flooded within ten minutes," Enrico Castro of the Positano Coast restaurant.

The restaurant, only a block away, was busy at the time. The fire department gave them 10 minutes to evacuate: customers, staff, everyone. It was a disaster for business.

"We basically lost all the lunch business and we lost probably half the reservations for dinner," said Castro. "We had about 300 reservations for dinner and only about 150 people, or 120, showed up."

And even now the street is blocked off, making it difficult for customers to find the entrance.

A law office is located at ground zero, right on the corner of 3rd and Walnut. Employees and clients are struggling to adjust to the street closures.

"Very, very hard to park my car," said Lieely Prior of the Douglas Grannan Law Office. "And it's very difficult for clients. They actually need to park three to four blocks away from the office."

And it will be like this for weeks and maybe months. The hole in the street is a spaghetti bowl of utility lines. They have to dig by hand to get it all sorted out.

"We're in very close quarters in that intersection. So it's a matter of diligent work, careful work, getting everything exposed properly and going from there," said John DiGiulio of the Philadelphia Water Department.

And they are still assessing the residual damage. The 178-year-old Merchants Exchange building on the corner had serious basement flooding, which has knocked out elevator service.

They also found asbestos that had washed into the basement, and that had to be professionally removed. It's a big mess that will be with us for quite some time.

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