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Pinellas residents cope with massive water pipe break over holiday weekend

LARGO — There's a sign posted on Elizabeth Hooper's refrigerator reminding everyone in the household how to properly disinfect tap water by boiling it.

It's just one more thing Hooper has to think about this holiday weekend.

The 32-year-old, an English teacher at Seminole High School, just gave birth to twins last week. Her family is in town. And on Thursday evening, her water supply was interrupted because of a huge water main break.

"It's been quite a challenge," said Hooper's mother, Joan Conway, who is visiting from Pennsylvania. "I was hoping it was going to be temporary. But we'll work it out."

The family is not alone. Residents across Pinellas County will likely spend this holiday weekend under a mandatory boil-water notice as crews try to fix a 4-foot-wide water pipe that burst Thursday evening at 142nd Avenue N and Belcher Road.

It isn't yet known when the water system will be repaired, said Tim Closterman, a spokesman for Pinellas County.

"It's a massive leak," he said.

Work could continue through Sunday or longer. Pinellas officials could not say how many residents were affected.

On Friday, water service had been restored for most residents. But officials still want all Pinellas County Utilities customers south of Belleair Road to conserve and boil their water until further notice.

Residents north of Belleair Road with low water pressure should do the same, Closterman said.

Water service remained completely off for about 50 parcels, primarily industrial and commercial properties between Belleair and Bryan Dairy roads.

The first sign of a problem came at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday when a subcontractor's crew that was replacing aging water pipes first noticed a small leak.

They began an exploratory dig to find the source, discovering a wide crack in the underground pipe, which was going to be replaced as part of the project.

Officials said the rupture did not appear to be caused by construction crews.

One of three major north-south viaducts, the 4-foot-wide pipeline takes water to homes in most of the south county.

St. Petersburg and Dunedin, the only cities with their own water supplies, were unaffected by the water pressure loss. Other cities, such as Clearwater, receive some of their water from the county's connection to the regional supplier, Tampa Bay Water. Largo, Seminole and Pinellas Park get all of their water from the county.

"We had it (water) one minute and then the next minute we didn't," said Pam Emery, 51, who lives across the street from the break.

Emery, her husband Ralph, daughter Crystal and son James had just arrived home around the time the leak was discovered.

James, who is 12, noticed water bubbling up near the family's home.

"When we looked down you could see the whole street flooding in a few minutes," Emery said.

At the Hooper family home on Friday afternoon, life went on.

Cookies were baked. More relatives arrived. Big sister Saara, who is 8, tried to persuade her grandmother to let her open a present.

In the living room, twins Lily and Miles, who are 10 days old today, slept in relatives' arms.

"We'll make do," Conway said. "I'm sure for some people it's a hardship. ...We always just kind of go with the flow."

Times Staff Writers Ileana Morales and Luis Perez contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

.FAST FACTS

Need water?

A water distribution site has been set up at Pinellas County Utilities' General Maintenance Department, 6730 142nd Ave. N., for Utilities customers without water. Affected residents are asked to bring containers. The distribution site will be open from noon to 8 p.m. today and Sunday, if needed. The site can be accessed from 66th

Street N.

For more information, visit www.pinellascounty.org/boilwater.

Pinellas residents cope with massive water pipe break over holiday weekend 12/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 24, 2010 10:08pm]
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