For Graduate Hospital home and business owners, the 21st and Bainbridge water main break saga trudges on. Though officials said earlier that the burst, which opened up a massive sinkhole in the middle of the intersection, could be resolved in a matter of days, complications involving other utilities have stretched that estimate to months.
“For us, the time frame is: we have a lot of work to do,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who Monday evening went door-to-door discussing concerns with his constituents. “In a situation like this, we have to be as patient and as deliberate as possible to make sure we don’t have to come back down here again.”
Johnson is working with the Water Department, which uses specialized sonar equipment to assess conditions of the city’s water pipe infrastructure, to identify vulnerable areas so this type of emergency can be better predicted and addressed before it comes exploding out of the sidewalk.
Neighborhood residents now have gas service and, for the most part, electricity, but are still reeling from the impact of the gallons of knee-deep water that rushed through the streets last Monday.
“They took out over 100 bags,” homeowner Al Clark said as he listed the possessions carted away by a contracted cleanup crew after five feet of water flooded his basement. “My stuff, my wife’s stuff, my mother’s stuff, all my woodworking tools – 40 years worth of tools. Homeowners’ insurance won’t pay because it’s a flood. … I’m at the mercy of the city to reimburse me.”
Clark had to foot the bill to put his mother, 93, up in a motel for four days. She’s still staying with family in Paoli because the home’s air conditioning wasn’t restored until Sunday night. “I lost all my photos,” he said. “I put out a lot of money because I had to buy a new washer and dryer. … We’ve been working nonstop until midnight. So today I’m stopping at 4 p.m., sitting down and having a beer. I’m too old to worry about this. It’s just a nightmare.”
Just Sunday night, a second water main broke in Northeast Philadelphia, though it was only six inches in diameter. The one at 21st and Bainbridge streets, for comparison, is 48 inches.
Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug said the reason for the breakdowns are simple: a lack of infrastructure funding. “The waste water industry hasn’t seen may federal dollars,” he said. “Most of the infrastructure is paid for by rate payers in many areas, including Philadelphia.”
He said citizens here pay very low water rates compared to other utilities. “Another part of the reason here is that we still have the incredible infrastructure our forefathers left us with,” he said. “Yes, it blew up, but it’s remarkable in its density, strength and ability to deliver water.”