LARGO — A large water pipe ruptured Thursday evening, causing widespread water pressure loss and prompting officials to require all Pinellas County utilities customers south of Belleair Road to boil their tap water.
Officials said large swaths of the county were without strong water pressure, and that some residents were reporting no water at all. The neighborhoods affected the worst were in Seminole, Pinellas Park and Largo, though reports of low pressure also came in from as far away as Treasure Island.
The underground pipeline break at 142nd Avenue N and Belcher Road was reported by crews who were replacing aging water pipes, said Tim Closterman, a spokesman for Pinellas County. One of three major north-south viaducts, the 4-foot-wide pipeline takes water to homes in most of the south county.
It was unclear how many homes were affected or when the pipe would be repaired. Officials said they were working to isolate the break late Friday night and planned to start patching it early this morning.
Officials asked residents throughout the county to avoid turning on the tap unless it was essential and to boil water they planned to drink or use for cooking.
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.
Pinellas utilities customers north of Belleair Road who have had low pressure or no water should also boil their water when service is restored, officials said.
Fire departments across the county were notified that hydrants might not have adequate pressure to fight fires. At one fire just a few blocks from the pipe break, firefighters had to rely on water trucks to fight a mobile home park blaze, officials said.
Traffic was shut down on Belcher Road between 142nd Avenue N and Ulmerton Road late Thursday night and was expected to remain that way throughout this morning, so motorists should avoid the area.
Workers first noticed a problem with the pipe about 3:30 p.m. when a subcontractor's crew working for the county noticed a small leak and began an exploratory dig to find the source. At about 6 p.m., the workers discovered 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 constructed related.
"It's just bad luck that it broke before we got down to replace it," said Marq Caughell, a county spokesman.
Caughell said that when response crews isolate the damaged pipeline, they'll seal it on both ends and residents will see an immediate improvement in water pressure.
They will start making that repair this morning.
"It's probably going to be low pressure all night long," Caughell said.