Leak leads Obama to issue declaration of emergency
BOSTON -- After speaking with Gov. Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama approved a declaration of emergency that will allow Massachusetts to get federal funds to help areas impacted the water main break in Weston that left 2 million people without clean water. (Read the President's full emergency declaration)
Officials on Monday said they tested the new pipe and that it is holding, meaning the 30 communities without clean water could be given the go-ahead to drink in as little as 48 hours.
Crews covered the repaired pipe in concrete to provide extra protection and are now making sure the water is safe to drink. The boil water order is still in effect until at least two clean water quality tests come back, which is expected to happen in the next 24 to 48 hours. (Find out if your community is affected.)
"We've started taking tests, hundreds of tests actually, and we will continue to do so through the day to guarantee that water is safe," said Fred Laskey of the MWRA.
"The 'boil-water' order is still in effect. It's very important that people in the affected communities continue to boil water for drinking purposes," said Gov. Patrick on Monday, who issued a state of emergency in Massachusetts as a result of the leak.
Yet, despite progress on the pipe repair, there is no concrete timeline from officials for when the affected communities will be able to begin using their taps again. (FAQ: 'Boil-water' order)
"I really don't even want to speculate. I don't want to jinx it, and two, I really don't want to set any false expectations," said Laskey.
Meanwhile, all the communities affected are also testing their own water, but the state has the final say as to when the 'boil-water' order is lifted.
WATER MAIN BREAK RESOURCES
On the leak
On the 'boil-water' order
Massachusetts Emergency Management officials warned over 2 million people to boil their water Saturday or risk getting sick.
A boil water order is in effect until further notice for these communities.
Officials warned residents to boil water for at least one minute before drinking it.
Water is safe for bathing and flushing. Officials warned residents NOT to use tap water for cooking, brushing teeth, baby formula, or washing dishes. ('Boil-water' order do's and don'ts)
PIPE PROBLEM IN WESTON
Officials believe a connector piece on a 10-foot pipe shattered in Weston, creating a leak and spilling nearly 8 million gallons of water per hour into the Charles River on Saturday for nearly eight hours. (Raw Video from MWRA: Pipe breaks)
Roughly 700,000 households in 30 communities were affected by the order, according to an MWRA press release.
When the water receded, crews were able to examine the pipe and discovered that the structure was intact. Consequently, they would not need to replace the entire 10-foot wide pipe.
However, crews did find a thin crack all the way around the pipe, which led to the leak. On Sunday, they worked to create a 3-foot wide collar to go around the broken pipe.
"Workers have been here all throughout the night, cleaning up the site... The seam on the pipe is what ruptured. That is what is being repaired right now, so the extent of the damage is not as great as what we feared yesterday," said Gov. Patrick in a news conference on Sunday. (Watch Sunday's news conference)
By Sunday evening, crews had gotten the bottom piece around the broken pipe.
"We have a solution that is now being implemented and that is the welding of a band around the seam between the two pipes," said Laskey.
After the pipe was repaired, crews on Monday poured concrete around for support and started to pressure-test the structure to make sure there weren't any additional problems.
If all goes to plan -- the water flows through the pipe and the pressure holds -- then crews will think about turning the water back on for communities.
"Then we will begin the startup, which is no easy task to start it up 'cause we have to guarantee that all the drinking is safe," said Laskey.
"It is a blessing it flowed into the Charles River and not into the homes down this way," added the governor on Sunday.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and urged residents that drinking water that isn't boiled could be dangerous.
"We have reservoirs of water that are not fully treated. What we're having to do is use those reservoirs to keep up the pressure and the water flow," Patrick said. (Watch press conference)
Despite around 265 gallons of water rushing into the Charles River, Laskey said there is enough to last.
"We believe that if everything goes well, we should be able to continue the water pressure and the flow of water from those backup sources indefinitely," Laskey said.
Officials said they noticed water bubbling from the pipe early Saturday morning.
The steel pipe was installed seven years ago, which is considered new. The pipe was supposed to last for 50 years. Officials said they do not know for sure why the pipe failed.
Officials are still investigating what caused the pipe to break.
"Obviously a real failure in the system. As we move forward, we're going to take a hard look at exactly why that is and do we have other points in the system that are vulnerable. Those are questions for once we have the 'boil-water' order lifted," said Ian Bowles, Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino said the backup water systems kept water pressure strong enough for firefighters and toilets. Hospitals have extra water available, according to Menino.
Officials advised against any unnecessary use of water such as laundry or watering the lawn.
The pipe break occurred just feet before a local distribution system that provides water to dozens of towns.
In the meantime, Menino urged residents to spread the word of the water boil order.
"If you have an elderly person living next door to you, I'd advice people to knock on their doors and explain the situation, see if they need some help," Menino said.
On Sunday, Mayor Menino said the city would be supplying bottled water to those in need.
"This evening, we're going to distribute the first one to the most vulnerable in our society. That would mean some of the nursing homes, some of the hospitals," he said.
Mayor Menino added that schools and businesses will be open Monday in Boston. In fact, despite the water problem, schools in all 30 affected communities will be open as usual Monday. (Read press release)
The mayor spent most of Sunday meeting with the governor's cabinet at the MEMA bunker in Framingham. He also revealed Sunday he's had police officers going door to door over the last 24 hours, visiting small businesses and restaurants to relay information on how to comply with the 'boil-water' order.
Mayor Menino attributed the fact that no one has fallen ill to unprecedented coordination.
"As mayor for the last 16 years, I've never seen government come together like it has over the last 24 hours... We've gotten through this crisis pretty well," he said.
The mayor said Sunday his hotline has received more than 5,000 calls in approximately the last 18 hours. He said his staff is working to respond to all inquiries.
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