TARPON SPRINGS — The sewage has stopped spewing, but the city is still trying to figure out the cause of a major pipeline leak that sent a river of smelly sludge onto sidewalks and streets near the city's downtown.
For days, neighbors say, dirty water sat in the street after flowing from manholes on Spruce Street near Pinellas Avenue.
Now the mess is mostly cleaned and workers are pumping water back to the wastewater plant. But the stench remains.
"I wish this hadn't happened," said public works director Tom Funcheon, adding this is the worst line break he has seen in 10 years on the job. "Nobody is more disgusted than me."
The source of the leak is a 2-foot pipe that carries 2 million gallons of wastewater a day between the city and the treatment plant. Repairs are expected to take at least two weeks.
The saga began Saturday night when neighbors noticed the odor and notified the city, which temporarily routed the wastewater away from the faulty pipe.
But neighbors said it took several days for city workers to clean the mess, leaving restaurant-goers who parked on Pinellas Avenue to navigate through puddles of toilet paper and sewage.
The problem grew worse Monday after a road collapse caused more leaks and forced the city to reroute traffic away from Live Oak Street.
"This isn't going to be some $10,000 or $20,000 repair," said City Manager Mark LeCouris. "This is major."
Several neighbors criticized the city for not coming door-to-door to tell them what happened. They had questions about whether drinking water was contaminated (it wasn't) and whether they would be reimbursed if they went to a hotel (they will).
"They have no protocol for dealing with an emergency situation, or if they do nobody is enforcing it," said Carlene Batman, 64, who lives on Spruce Street and said contaminated water flowed into her garden.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the city is addressing the problem appropriately.
Linda Flowers, 65, who lives on Spruce Street, said she discovered the leak Saturday when she opened her bathroom door and "the smell was tremendous."
Her modest white house with rocking chairs on the front porch has no central air conditioning. So the city brought commercial fans for the inside and sprinkled lime around the perimeter to alleviate the odor, which grew stronger Tuesday as rainstorms washed away the lime.
The stench and concerns about sanitation forced her to take her family to a motel for several nights. She and her family are also going to get tetanus shots at the city's expense, she said.
Rick Madden, of Lagerheadz Bar & Grill on Pinellas Avenue, said he shut down his restaurant Saturday night and turned away about 200 customers after sewage seeped through drains in the bathroom floor. He reopened Sunday after the city sent out a sanitation crew and the mess was cleaned, he said.
Neighbors near the wastewater plant said there also was a minor sewage leak in January.