The problems began around 3:00 A.M. in Hoboken near the intersection of Willow Avenue and 8th Street. A 12-inch water main there that’s at least 75 years old came apart from wear and tear over the years, according to United Water, the water utility.
The flow of water under the street surface caused the ground underneath it to give way, creating a sinkhole so big that a car fell into it. “It kind of swallowed that car,” said Robert Costa, a Willow Street resident. His basement apartment took on water from the break. “A foot-and-a-half of water down there,” Costa said.
His apartment had flooded to the ceiling during Sandy, but he said that because the water main’s water was fresh, he expected the mildew and mold dangers to be less than he had experienced when the storm hit last October.
“Hopefully the clean up will be a lot smoother,” Costa told PIX11 News, as he looked for closure to the inconvenience to begin.
However, the situation was about to worsen and be widespread. Six blocks north, on the same street, Willow Avenue, seven hours after the 12-inch main broke, a deluge of water flooded streets. At the east end of a major bridge construction project, a much bigger water main broke, draining most of the water system of Hoboken, and parts of the system that serves neighboring Jersey City.
“A piece of construction euipment probably hit the main, creating the destruction you see,” said United Water External Affairs Vice President Edmund DeVeaux as he pointed to the gush bubbling up just south of the intersection of 14th Street and Willow Avenue. “[It’s] a 30-inch main break,” DeVeaux told PIX11 News. “The entire city is feeling [its] effects.”
Inside homes and businesses across the city of 50,000, people had nothing to drink and could not flush toilets. It was an all-day inconvenience to healthy residents, but at Hoboken University Medical Center, it would have been a matter of life or death if the city had not moved in water tanker trucks to flush out the hospital’s sanitation system and to provide drinking water.
Firefighters were put on standby throughout the city in fire tankers to take the place of drained hydrants, while just about everybody else in town simply had to do without, both in Hoboken as well as neighborhoods of Jersey City adjacent to its neighboring municipality. “This [disabled wate ] line impacted another line” in Jersey City, Greg Kierce, Jersey City’s Office of Emergency Management Director, told PIX11 News, “and they’re all interconnected.”
Particularly hard hit in both cities were high rises, where water pressure was inadequate to reach upper floors. Most residents were inconvenienced until around 2:30 in the afternoon, at which point United Water spokesperson Steve Goudsmith announced, “System pressure is already coming back as we speak.”
The improvement was the result of work crews repairing the 12-inch main that had broken overnight, and shutting off the 30-inch main from the rest of the water system, allowing water to build up citywide once again. By the time most residents returned home from work, they had full water pressure.
The exception to the case was people who live closest to the second main break, at 14th Street and Willow Avenue. “In this localized area,” Goudsmith said at the intersection, “you’ll have folks without water ’til the repair is complete.”
He said that work crews had hoped to finish before Friday evening. Meanwhile, his utility advises all Hoboken residents to boil their water for at least 60 seconds before drinking it or cooking with it. Jersey City residents, who are served by the same disabled system, are advised to do the same.