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Broken main cuts water to 70,000

A break in a main at a water plant cut or reduced water service to at least 70,000 people.

The 36-inch pipe that ruptured Wednesday afternoon at the Peace River Water Plant is the main one that carries water to Charlotte County Utilities customers.

"An employee noticed the pressure dropping and then the water started flowing all over the grounds," plant facility coordinator Sam Stone said. By Wednesday evening, the ground in front of the plant looked like two huge mud puddles surrounded by a small grassy mound.

Charlotte County schools were closed Thursday. Water plant officials predicted the break would be fixed by midmorning Thursday.

Affected by the break were all customers of Charlotte County Utilities, those of Southern States Utilities in Deep Creek and Lake Suzy and residents of Gulf Cove, South Gulf Cove and Englewood East, said Maggie Cain, business administration manager of Charlotte County Utilities. North Port Utility officials shifted to their backup water supply but urged customers to conserve.

"I just flushed the toilet, and I don't think I should have done that," said Geraldine Szolnoky of Port Charlotte. She keeps water in her refrigerator and will have to use some of that to refill her toilet.

Fawcett Memorial Hospital had bottled water and ice delivered. Bon Secours-St. Joseph Hospital was making similar plans. Officials at both hospitals said patient care would be unaffected.

"We also have a well that we will use to run water to our cooling tower to keep the air conditioning running," said Mary Lorah, director for acute care services at Fawcett. "And we have a product our nurses can use to wash their hands that doesn't require any water."

People in the 40,000 homes and businesses in Charlotte County affected by the break should boil their water for at least 48 hours, and only stop doing so for cooking and drinking water after the utility issues an "all clear," Cain said.