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Crews aiming to restore New Tampa's water service in phases, city official says

TAMPA — The news about a major water main break Friday afternoon in New Tampa spread almost as quickly as the gushing water on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Preschool teachers worried about parents having an even more arduous evening commute. Small-business owners with dry taps closed down or struggled to stay open. Hair salons turned away scheduled clients. On Facebook, there were pictures of store shelves emptied by shoppers frantically seeking bottled water.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Water Department was telling customers north of Fowler Avenue to boil tap water for drinking and food preparation until further notice. By Friday night, some New Tampa customers already had their water back on, Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said.

The cause of Friday's chaos: A transmission line on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard between Amberly Drive and Tampa Palms Boulevard ruptured and was turned off shortly before 3 p.m, the Tampa Water Department said.

That dried up all of New Tampa and disrupted service to all customers north of Fowler Avenue.

And if the ongoing road work along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard ever had an upside, this was it: The Water Department had already been installing a new transmission line next to the decades-old pipe that ruptured Friday.

Crews were working Friday night to switch service from the ruptured pipe, and by 7 p.m., customers north of Interstate 75 had water again, Montelione said.

"We were only two weeks away from transferring service from the old line to the new line," she said. "The old line didn't want to wait two weeks. We're very, very fortunate that project was completed and undergoing testing."

Service was expected to be restored in phases, with 95 percent of customers getting their water back by 11 p.m. Friday, said Eli Franco, a Tampa Water Department spokesman. A contractor was called in to work into Saturday morning to bring water service back for the remaining 5 percent, he said.

The cause of the break and total number of affected customers remained undetermined late Friday.

At the height of the outage, employees at Pebble Creek Animal and Bird Hospital headed to Walmart, where they bought 12 gallons of distilled water and six cases of bottled water. They were looking out for their furry friends.

"The grooming was done this morning so that wasn't affected," said Jasmine Trom, 31. "We just basically were stocking up because we heard that it could last over the weekend."

Across New Tampa, some businesses closed. Near Tampa Palms, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and McDonald's all temporarily shut down until water service was restored. Kobe Japanese Steak and Sushi, usually bustling with customers, remained closed early Friday evening.

A sign on the doors at LA. Fitness near Bruce B. Downs and County Line Road gave an ominous message to fitness enthusiasts. "Attention: We are closed! The facility is currently without water! We are trying to contact the city to solve problem."

Inside the gym, weekend manager Jordan Jones sat alone after forcing out 150 people when the water went off.

"It's health code (issue)," Jones said. "The toilets aren't flushing. There's no way it's going to be open. And also we still have water fountains."

Jones' sign didn't stop people from trying to workout. Spandex-clad health seekers streamed to the door and turned away disappointed when Jones spoiled their Friday night plans. He decided to ignore the telephone.

"I'm not going to answer every single one of them," said Jones who also lost water in his home near Cross Creek Boulevard. They're all going to ask the same thing, 'Are you open?' "

Sandra Jaramillo, 39, learned she had no water when her daughter got home from school.

"She was trying to wash her hands and go to take a shower and surprise," said Jaramillo, who lives in Grand Hampton.

Many New Tampa residents had water restored by early evening, albeit with low pressure. But Jaramillo had no such luck. She worried that a fix might not come quickly.

"I called and called the people to see if they can fix it right away. . . . I hope it's not going to be tomorrow," she said.

Waterless, Joe Fisher and his 6-year-old daughter Kaylee decided to play soccer in the field at Hilda Turner Elementary School. Without water, they'd had to change dinner plans — pasta was on the menu — and eat leftovers instead.

Making the best of things Friday evening, the pair hoped for gushing bathroom faucets.

"Hopefully the water is almost full pressure and we can take a shower when we get home," said Joe Fisher, 32.

In Live Oak Preserve, Guifaure Pradieu unfurled a garden hose to wash his SUV. He was unaware that his home was dry.

"Oh my God, so we didn't have water at all? Lucky. I missed it all," he said.

When the city issues a boil-water notice, water quality is tested twice in 48 hours for safety reasons, said Franco, the city water spokesman.

"I don't anticipate lifting the boil-water notice before Monday," he said.

.FAST FACTS

Boil-water order

The water main break in New Tampa has affected a large portion of Tampa's water service in the area. Customers may be experiencing a loss of service or drop in pressure, and a boil-water notice is in effect for all city of Tampa water users north of Fowler Avenue. Those in other areas where water pressure has dropped should also boil their water as a precaution.

Crews aiming to restore New Tampa's water service in phases, city official says 05/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 5:57pm]

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