published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Wreck breaks main in Chattanooga; water gushes

West Martin Luther King Boulevard was shut down Saturday after car hit a fire hydrant, resulting in a broken water main beneath the road.
West Martin Luther King Boulevard was shut down Saturday after car hit a fire hydrant, resulting in a broken water main beneath the road.
Photo by Jay Bailey.

Saturday's dusting of snow, pretty though it was, left residents of the CHA apartment towers on west M.L. King Boulevard high and dry for about five hours.

About 11 a.m., a vehicle slid in the snow and crashed into a fire hydrant at the intersection of M.L. King and Gateway Avenue. The car knocked over the hydrant and pushed down on the pipe underneath, damaging the main and causing water to gush out onto the road through a split in the pavement.

"I heard it's blowing up like Old Faithful out there," John Hutchins, a Towers resident, said Saturday afternoon. "We been doing without. Can't take a bath; can't go to the bathroom."

According to Laura Vinson, spokeswoman for Tennessee American Water, this type of breakage is very rare.

"It's just a fluke," she said.

The technical term for the breakage, according to Vinson, is a "water hammer." This occurs when water in a pipe is flowing in one direction and suddenly encounters blockage. Sometimes the water can be redirected without a problem. But in Saturday's case, there was nowhere for the water to go but out on the street.

As water poured out through cracks in the asphalt, workers looked for the valve that would allow them to repair the break.

In addition to the Chattanooga Housing Authority towers, the BlueCross BlueShield headquarters and the Holiday Inn Express were among those affected by the breakage.

"Once they find that valve and work on it, that will restore water to those areas," said Vinson. "That's our top priority right now: getting water restored to Towers and then that means BlueCross, too."

Apartment resident Angela Copeland was enjoying a cup of coffee in the lobby while she waited for water to be restored.

"I'm not going to worry about it, but I hate to be without water," she said.

But she was confident that the water would be up and running again soon.

"I know they're out there working," said Copeland.

Tennessee American vehicles had the area blocked off as the water rushed down M.L. King and pooled around the bottom of the hill close to the U.S. Highway 27 interchange.

Vinson said the repairs probably would continue into Saturday night. "We have all hands on deck right now, and we need all hands," she said.

As of 4 p.m., water was restored to the apartments and BlueCross BlueShield. Workers then concentrated on the area farther down the main, where the Holiday Inn Express was still without water.

Vinson said the workers would need to excavate the area to find the full extent of the damage before any further repairs could be made.

Sgt. Wayne Jefferson of the Chattanooga Police Department said Saturday afternoon that no information was available about the car crash that started the whole thing.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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