Cold snap has pipes in deep freeze

Published on February 10, 2007 in News Worthy | No Comments

chicago tribune

Cold snap has pipes in deep freeze

Thousands lose water, 700 forced to vacate high-rise

By Josh Noel, Mitch Dudek, and Tribune Staff Reporter Gerry Doyle
Chicago Tribune
February 10, 2007

Nearly 1,500 homes still have no water–or have seen it reduced to a trickle–as the city battles what it calls the most severe winter assault against pipes in at least 10 years.

The combination of sustained frigid temperatures and a lack of snow to insulate the ground has led to an unusually high number of frozen pipes,Department of Water Management spokesman Tom LaPorte said Friday.

Since Feb. 1, more than 5,500 residents have complained about losing water service, he said. Some blockages occurred in city pipes, but “more than 50percent” of the problems were the result of owners failing to insulate exposed pipes, LaPorte said.

In cases where city pipes have frozen, people have had to wait an average of two days for crews to arrive with thawing equipment, he said. Priority is being given to the elderly and to people who have been without water the longest.

“We’re getting to them as fast as we possible can,” LaPorte said.

The latest victims were about 700 people forced out of a Lake View high-rise Friday afternoon when a pipe froze and burst, gushing as much as 11feet of water into the basement, Fire Department officials said.

Residents of the 29-story building at 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive were left without heat, running water or working elevators. Occupants evacuated by stairs as firefighters were stationed every five floors. Hours later, firefighters were still going door to door to be sure no residents remained.

Two people were taken to hospitals with stress-related conditions.

Though late-arriving residents were to be allowed to return to their apartments to gather belongings, tenants were not allowed to stay in the building overnight and might not be allowed back for several days, officials said.

“You’re just at Mother Nature’s mercy from time to time in life,” Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco said.

Displaced residents were less philosophical.

“This is my birthday weekend,” said Darren Seifer, 31, luggage in hand.”It’s not fun.”

LaPorte said the water department has responded to 29 broken mains flooding streets and nearly 3,000 reports of water leaking from cracked pipes in yards,streets and sidewalks. The staff has been working “around the clock” and 18private plumbers have been hired to help, he said.

Olivia Tkachuk, who owns Wagner and Sons plumbing at 725 W. 47th St., said her company fielded about 50 calls Friday for frozen and burst pipes in the city and western suburbs. One day earlier in the week she received about 150calls, though her 24-hour operation could only service about half.

All last winter she got two such calls.

Most of the problems stem from underground water lines and pipes in wall sand basements freezing. One of her plumbers found a desperate man trying to fix a leaky pipe in his basement while standing in five feet of water.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it in five years,” Tkachuk said.

Most cracks have formed where pipes are exposed to the cold or pass through meter vaults near homes, LaPorte said. The average pipe bringing water to a home is buried 4 or 5 feet below the ground, he said.

Tim Halbach, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said readings Friday showed the ground was not frozen beyond about a foot.

Yet problems persisted for Mike Leong, 32, a banker who lives in a three-story townhouse in Wrigleyville.

He discovered he was without water Wednesday morning, as every faucet hetried came up dry. On Friday afternoon he was still without water and growing increasingly frustrated.

Leong and his wife, Vanessa, 30, had been filling up buckets of water at a neighbor’s home to flush their toilets, but the neighbor’s pipes also froze Friday. He said he’s called the city’s 311 non-emergency line repeatedly, only to be told to be patient.

“The frustration is when there is no visibility of when this might be resolved,” he said. “Let’s just say people take for granted that you can flush the toilet.”

Leong and his wife have bought dozens of gallons of water to brush their teeth, wash up and do simple cooking, he said. They take showers at their health club. And if they’re still without water this weekend, they were prepared to take their desperation one step further.

“We’ll have to bring our laundry to our parents’ house,” he said. “Just like college.”

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