Multnomah County

'Catastrophic' main break causes flooding in NE Portland

NE 23-28 Avenues/Alberta to Prescott Streets are affected

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- The "catastrophic failure" of a large cast iron water main caused major flooding in a Northeast Portland neighborhood on Saturday. 

The break happened around 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Northeast 23rd Avenue and Northeast Skidmore Street, causing water to spurt out at 1 million gallons per minute, according to Portland Fire and Rescue. 

Officials were able to finally slow the rush of water Saturday evening and crews continue to reduce the flow in order to make repairs.

Officials said the flooding affected homes and could cause sinkholes.

Cheryl and Peter Alto said they heard a "pop" and within about 20 minutes the water was at their steps and rushing into a neighbor's garage.

"Came out and it was just very surreal, a reflection of all the water and it just happened very quickly," Cheryl said. 

Twelves homes were evacuated and residents watched helplessly as water poured into homes and surrounded cars.

"This is wild," Michael Vitti said. "I've never seen anything like it before that's a lot of water coming out of there."

Marnie Freeman thought someone hit a fire hydrant at first but soon realized it was much bigger.

"It reminds me of when we had that fire in the Gorge," she said. "It gives me that same sensation. And I can't help to think of that sinkhole that is forming that's what I'm most nervous about."

Officials warned people to stay out of the water because it could weaken surfaces or hide open manhole covers. 

"We've asked people to stay away from the water," Lt. Rich Chatman with Portland Fire and Rescue said. "It really is our primary message to stay nowhere near the water. We have a lot of hazards involved. We've got open manhole covers and we aren't sure of the stability of the ground in a lot of these areas."

Portland police said the break affected Northeast 23rd to 28th Avenues and Alberta to Prescott Streets. The pipe was one of the larger ones in Portland at 30 inches. 

The Portland Water Bureau said when a main that size fails, you might see dirty or brown water coming out of faucets. That's because sediment is being stirrup up in the system.

There is no health hazard from the water, but people in the neighborhood are still being advised not to touch the standing water. 

"Sediment is always in our system but is only visible when a change in flow is enough to disturb the sediment. Customers may choose to drink bottled water while waiting for discoloration to clear," the bureau tweeted.

Water bureau officials said crews were working to shut the valves off but that the process would take some time because there were so many valves. They added that a water main break of this magnitude is a very rare event. 

PBOT set up a station with 12 cubic yards of sand and sandbags for people to protect their property. It's on the median at NE 26th and Mason. 

The Portland Bureau of Transportation said the water was bubbling up from under the street Saturday evening, meaning there are likely voids under the street. They will have to completely excavate and rebuild that part of the street.

Power outages

About 10,000 Pacific Power customers living in and around the area of the water main break lost power around 11:15 a.m. 

Pacific Power said it "de-energized power lines in the area" at the request of Portland Fire and Rescue as officials work to fix the pipe. 

Officials said it would be very labor intensive to restore power but customers had electricity back on by 7 p.m. Saturday.

"Power's on, heat's on, lights are on, life is good," Peter Alto said. 

A few customers with water damage did not get power back and will need to have an electrician repair their equipment before power can be turned on.

“We want to thank customers for their patience in this unusual situation as we work with the city,” said David Lucas, vice president of operations, in a press release. “Safety has to come first. Flooding basements, many of which contain circuit breakers, is a major risk. We urge everyone to be cautious and we will return service as soon as we safely can.”

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