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No word yet on when people, or pets, can return to flooded Element Tampa

The 500 people who live in the downtown tower had to get out quickly Friday when water line breaks flooded their apartments, hallways and stairwells.
Lucia Hardin works at Beautify the Beast in the Element apartment tower and Kiwi is one of the pets the business is boarding for free after a flood forced residents to evacuate.
Lucia Hardin works at Beautify the Beast in the Element apartment tower and Kiwi is one of the pets the business is boarding for free after a flood forced residents to evacuate. [ MICHAELA MULLIGAN | Times ]
Published Jul. 20

Four days after a broken water line sent water flooding through the Element apartment tower, the 500 people living there still don’t know when they’ll be cleared to move back in.

The downtown Tampa highrise is one of the city’s tallest buildings, a fixture of the downtown skyline since 2009. Early Friday morning, residents hurriedly evacuated as water from two pipe breaks poured through vents and light fixtures and down hallways and stairwells.

Now, many residents are staying in hotel rooms rented by the Element’s owners while awaiting word from the company on what’s next.

The city Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating what went wrong and expects to have an answer by the end of the week, Fire Marshal John Reed said. The broken water line was owned and managed by the Element, Reed said.

The owner of the building, Northland Investment Corp. of Newton., Mass., issued this statement on Monday:

“Restoration crews have been working around the clock since Friday to make repairs to the building so that residents can return as soon as possible. Additionally, we have been assessing the extent of the water damage by floor and will be personally reaching out to those whose apartments were more severely impacted.”

Related: Water line break forces residents from Element tower in downtown Tampa

On Tuesday, water clean-up vans lined North Franklin Street and the street was closed to vehicle traffic in front of the 35-story Element.

Taped to the glass doors were handwritten notes: “Entrance is closed until further notice.” An orange chain wound around the handles of one door.

Some residents showed up to the doors anyway, taking a gamble that they would be allowed entry. Alex Loura, 28, walked out of the building Tuesday morning holding two trash bags full of his belongings.

“You have to show up and hope they let you in,” Loura said.

He’s currently staying a few blocks away at the Courtyard by Marriott Tampa Downtown, where Northland has rented rooms. Loura says he’s received very few updates and no word on when he’ll be allowed back in the building.

Some residents said Friday they had experienced problems with serious water leaks before in the building but it wasn’t clear whether they’re related to Friday’s calamity. Reed said he was unaware of any earlier problems.

The Element has 395 residential units renting for $2,500 to $4,855 a month according to its website, though one resident says she’s renting a studio apartment for $1,600 a month.

Element also leases some retail space to tenants including Beautify the Beast, a groomer and boarding service for pets.

After a number of Element residents came to the shop Friday seeking necessities for their evacuated pets, such as leashes and food, owner Angela Ardolino opened her doors to them and boarded the animals for free.

“We saw people sitting in their cars with dogs,” employee Lucia Hardin said. “A lot of them had just grabbed their pets and ran. We have a whole facility so we wanted to make sure people are taken care of.”

The business will continue allowing residents to drop off pets for free daycare for the next week or so.

On Friday, an influx of displaced residents made their way across the street with their pets to Caffeine Roasters Tampa to await updates throughout the day, said Katelyn Rowlands, a barista at Caffeine Roasters Tampa.

The Element may be empty but it’s largely business as usual for the coffee shop, Rowlands said, because so many residents are staying at the nearby Courtyard by Marriott.