Wheaton Neighbors Have a Sinking Feeling

Water main break floods roads

By Kimberly Suiters
|  Monday, Nov 30, 2009  |  Updated 7:56 PM EDT
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A Kensington water main break floods the area.

A Kensington water main break floods the area.

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Earth Quakes in Montgomery County

A ten-inch water main break splits open a residential street in Wheaton, Maryland Monday.
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What neighbors heard at 6:30 a.m. Monday in an established middle-class neighborhood in Wheaton was not rain. It was a manmade flood rushing down Gail Street.

"It sounded like a rainstorm, only it wasn't raining outside," Mrs. Eaton said.  "It was crazy. I've never seen anything like it."

Snaking around the bottom of the hill, at the foot of the house Eaton owned for nearly 40 years, emerged a river from a broken water main, more than 1 foot deep.

"At this point, we don't know why the 10-inch main broke," said WSSC's John White, who wore a hard hat and bright yellow safety vest. "It was built in 1948, which isn't old. Those pipes should last 75 to 80 years."

WSSC is investigating whether the main broke at the top of Gail Street, the site of a sinkhole wide enough to swallow a car. When late morning rain started to fall and the ground softened further, the street crumbled again, enlarging the hole. The scene looked as though a small earthquake had rumbled through.

Downhill, the road buckled in a dozen places, rendering it impassable. Before the rushing water receded, Captain Oscar Garcia with the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department said the danger to residents had been hidden.

"Part of the problem is we couldn't see that damage because of the water," Garcia said. "That's why we isolated the area and had firefighters go door to door letting people know they could voluntarily evacuate."

Forty homes were directly affected, having lost all water usage. Neighbors in surrounding blocks told NBC4 their water pressure is very low.

Eaton chose not to leave the area. Instead she grabbed an umbrella and jogged to a friend's house to discuss the deteriorating condition of their dear old neighborhood.

"We've been talking about it for a while. Now maybe somebody else will notice," Eaton said with a wincing smile.

WSSC's White said crews would likely fix the main by Monday night. But road repairs could take a few days, he said.

Gail Street is expected to be closed between Highview Avenue and Gail Place for several days.

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