Alen Saric assistant general manager of Residence Inn in Portland, leaves Hannaford Supermarket with his second load of drinking water for his customers. A boil drinking water alert was issued for Portland by the Portland Water District after a water main broke.
Update (9:18 a.m.) — The city of Portland lifted its boil water order at 8:45 a.m. Thursday morning. Read the full story here.
PORTLAND — A break in a 20-inch water main Wednesday flooded a street in Bayside, forced schools and businesses to close and prompted the Portland Water District to tell customers on Portland’s peninsula to boil tap water before using it.
About 4,000 homes and businesses on Munjoy Hill and in the Old Port and West End were directly affected by the water main break at 128 Somerset St., the water district said.
The East End and Reiche community schools closed for the day, and Portland High School students were released around noon.
Somerset Street, near Whole Foods, was flooded by the break and blocked off by police. At one point, the water was deep enough to top the headlights of parked cars.
The water was so deep that it hampered crews’ efforts to repair the line.
Munjoy Hill and other parts of the peninsula lost water service for about an hour Wednesday morning because of the drop in pressure, said water district spokeswoman Michelle Clements.
The break was reported at 7:44 a.m. The notice to boil water, which took effect at 9:30 a.m., was a precaution. Because of the drop in water pressure, contamination could have been siphoned into the water main, the water district said.
Residents and businesses were directed to boil water for at least five minutes before drinking it, making ice cubes, washing food, brushing teeth or doing anything else involving consumption of water. The boil-water order was expected to remain in effect through Thursday morning.
Twelve water samples were collected Wednesday morning from various locations on the peninsula. In a news release late Wednesday night, Clements said the water did not appear to be contaminated. Chlorine levels were normal and none of the samples had an unusual appearance.
Those samples are being analyzed for bacteria, a test that requires an 18-hour incubation period. Clements said that means the boil order cannot be lifted any sooner than midmorning Thursday.
If any of the results are unsatisfactory, the boil order could be extended.
On its website, the water district said it will release the next update, including water test results, by mid-morning on Thursday. The information will be posted on the district's website and Facebook page.
The cause of the break was not known late Wednesday, and the water district did not speculate on what caused the pipe, 20 inches in diameter, to rupture.
Clements said pipe repairs were completed around 10:30 p.m. Crews will return to clean up the area Thursday.
In response to the boil-water notice, Maine Medical Center activated its disaster mutual-aid agreement with Poland Spring and Coca-Cola, said Joshua Frances, the hospital’s director of emergency management. He said 500 cases of bottled water had already been brought in.
“It’s all about keeping patients safe,” he said. “It’s part of our routine disaster planning.”
The hospital could still flush toilets and run its boilers, but bottled water was used for drinking, washing hands and even cleaning floors.
Maine Med turned off its ice machines and soda fountains at the main hospital complex, and at the roughly 25 physician centers and affiliates around the peninsula.
City officials emailed a message to about 270 of the city’s 650 restaurants late Wednesday morning to notify them about the boil-water notice. Health inspectors, police officers and code inspectors followed up by going to restaurants.
Mike Russell, a city health officer, and Scott Davis, a state health inspector, visited restaurants in the Old Port, asking whether their staffs had heard about the boil order and fielding questions about what procedures were acceptable.
They passed out guidelines that addressed the need to discard ice, to stop using water for beverage machines, and to not use unboiled tap water for hand-washing, among other things.
Davis said the guidelines are precautionary. “Ninety percent of the city ate or drank something before the word got out,” he said.
J.R. Roberts, general manager the Grill Room in the Old Port, said the staff learned of the boil-water order shortly before the restaurant opened. He said no tap water was being served, and he asked officials about coffee and tea.
Davis said coffee makers would not get the water hot enough to sterilize it.
The state recommendations are based on federal guidelines that call for water to be at a rolling boil for at least one minute.
DiMillo’s on the Water immediately shut off its ice machines and added hand sanitizer and boiled water throughout the kitchen.
“We’re going to strive to make it as unnoticeable as possible for diners,” said Johnny DiMillo.
Two Fat Cats Bakery on India Street, which is in the midst of its holiday rush, closed for part of Wednesday morning. The water issue didn’t affect the baking, but it made dishwashing more complicated, said Emma Sampson, an employee.
“Since we’re small, we don’t have enough dishes to get through the day (without washing them),” she said.
Alen Saric, assistant general manager of the Residence Inn on Fore Street, was among the customers who stocked up on bottled water at the Hannaford supermarket on Forest Avenue. He said many customers were in the aisle and the normally full shelves were being stocked when he arrived.
“There was enough to go around for everybody,” said Saric.
The supermarket got special deliveries so it could meet the increased demand, said Eric Blom, a Hannaford spokesman. “We’ve sold a lot, but we also have stock on hand,” he said.
The boil-water notice halted operations Wednesday at Cozy Harbor Seafood, which processes lobster, haddock, cod and pollock at this time of year.
“It shut us down for today and tomorrow,” said John Norton, the company’s president. “That’s probably 110,000 pounds of processing. A hundred and thirty people."
Cozy Harbor said it will do its own tests, in addition to the water district’s, to make sure the water is safe before it resumes processing .
The staff at the Cumberland County Jail boiled water in industrial-size pots and filled large coolers for drinking water, said Lt. William Brady, the jail commander.
Sinks in cells and drinking fountains in pods were turned off, he said.
“Obviously, for flushing and showering, we tell them, 'Don’t drink that stuff,’” he said.
The water district suggested that people whose homes, cars and businesses were damaged by the water main break should contact their insurance companies.
They can also file claims with the water district by contacting its customer service department or going to its website.
Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
A bucketloader approaches a submerged van on Somerset Street in Portland Wednesday, December 19, 2012, after a water main break caused flooding through much of the area.