By Lauren ForemanJohn Spink - The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionEllen Eldridge
March 8, 2018
Buford Highway in DeKalb County is open again after a 48-inch water main broke Wednesday morning, disrupting a multitude of services across the county, including hospitals, businesses, restaurants and schools.
DeKalb officials said water pressure was slowly being restored to customers. And local schools plan to resume operations Thursday.
But a boil water advisory remains in effect for the entire county and Department of Watershed Management Interim Director Reggie Wells said Wednesday night it could last for days.
That’s one reason shoppers scrambled to grab bottled water from many stores, clearing the shelves by mid-afternoon.
The 20- to 30-year-old main broke just north of I-285 about 4:30 a.m. and flooded the roadway for hours. The county’s CEO said a “full-scale investigation” will be conducted into the cause of the break.
DeKalb’s Watershed Management department has been plagued by issues over the years, including outdated meters that led to widespread water billing issues and a decaying sewage system that is the source of regular spills.
Stay with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the latest:
7:15 p.m.: Crews are working around the clock to repair the water main break that could leave DeKalb County residents under a boil water advisory for days, Department of Watershed Management Interim Director Reggie Wells said Wednesday during a news conference.
"The plan is, within the next 48 hours to have this line completely tied in and put water back on it," he said.
6:19 p.m.: Decatur residents who are unable to boil water may receive up to two gallons of potable water from the city, spokeswoman Renae Madison said. Anyone who needs clean water can bring a container to the Scott Park tennis courts behind the Decatur Recreation Center on Sycamore Street between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. An ID will be required to access water, Madison said.
6:10 p.m.: Decatur City Schools will also open as usual Thursday, but school officials ask students and staff to bring a full bottle of water because the area remains under a boil water advisory.
5:55 p.m. DeKalb County Schools will be open Thursday as scheduled, the district said. School officials ask students and staff to bring a full bottle of water because the area remains under a boil water advisory.
5:53 p.m. Officials with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said its campuses will be closed Thursday.
Due to an area-wide boil water advisory, CDC campuses are closed Thursday, March 8. As a result, our “We Were There” event has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date. We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope you will join us on our new date.
5:30 p.m.: Emory University Hospital's emergency department was on diversion for part of the day, turning away ambulances.
4:55 p.m.: DeKalb County Watershed Management said a contractor and equipment is on the way to fix the water main break now that the highway is 85 percent cleared of water and mud. "County crews are assessing the damage and removing debris so repair work can begin," the county said.
4 p.m.: Brookhaven City Hall is scheduled to reopen at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, with the permits window opening at 7:30 a.m. The building closed Wednesday after the water main break and a work session and Planning Commission meeting were canceled, while the police department, municipal court and recreation centers at Briarwood and Lynwood had adequate water pressure and did not close.
3:45 p.m.: Medical facilities in the county have been pressured by the water problem all day. Hospitals are required to have 96 hours' reserve of bottled water and DeKalb Medical has already used that for patient consumption and washing. All dialysis was canceled; two patients who needed dialysis Wednesday were transferred to the hospital system's Hillandale site.
3:15 p.m.: DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond issued a statement committing to a "full-scale investigation" into the cause of the water main break.
“We will determine whether the break was the result of a systematic failure, improper maintenance, wear and tear or physical tampering,” Thurmond said. “I am committed to making sure our infrastructure is protected and maintained in a manner that will ensure quality service to the citizens of DeKalb County.”
2:40 p.m.: Toilets wouldn't flush and water pressure was low at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital complex on Clairmont Road, but critical medical operations were not affected. A VA spokesman said the same conditions existed at the veterans health system's clinics and offices in DeKalb until about 12:20 p.m.
2:35 p.m.: Water pressure returned to all DeKalb fire stations. "Eight water tankers are still stationed throughout the county to assist with fire protection and to fill chillers at hospitals," DeKalb officials said in a statement. "The DeKalb County Emergency Operations Center remains open."
2:19 p.m.: Emory University will reopen at 5 p.m.
“DeKalb County has been working to address the water main break and water pressure on campus is returning to normal,” the university said in a tweet. “DeKalb County has continued the countywide boil water advisory for residents.”
1:30 p.m.: Pressure is slowly being restored throughout the county. "Despite restoration," officials wrote in a statement, "DeKalb County Watershed customers are still under a boil water advisory."
People are advised to “boil” all water prior to use for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby food. The water should be boiled for at least one minute after reaching a rolling boil.
1:08 p.m.: With the exception of the Lawrenceville facility, the CDC is closed, spokeswoman Kathryn Harben told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
12:40 p.m.: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is conserving water by making adjustments to operations at Egleston and several neighborhood locations in DeKalb, officials said. Inpatient care has not been affected at Egleston.
12:38 p.m.: Shoppers at Publix at Town Brookhaven purchased the majority of bottled water on the normally well-stocked shelves.
“It’s DeKalb County,” Brookhaven resident Linda Young said as she put jugs of water in her shopping cart. “You never know how long it’ll take them to fix it.”
12:15 p.m.: Emory Healthcare is closing many of its DeKalb clinics.
“All appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure the safety and quality of care to our patients, including use of bottled water,” the healthcare system said in a statement.
Clinics A, B and C are closed on the Clifton campus. Clinics in the 1525 building on Clifton Road are closed, too.
Closures also include Family Practice Associates and Emory clinics in Tucker and Dunwoody as well as Decatur locations on North Decatur Road and Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Patients, including those with Infusion Centers and Radiation Oncology, are being notified directly about the closures to reschedule as needed.
Surgery cases have been canceled at Emory University Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital on Montreal Road in Tucker, according to Emory Healthcare.
Surgical and procedural cases at Emory University Hospital on Clifton Road will continue as normal. Operations will also continue as normal at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital and on Emory’s Wesley Woods campus.
11:38 a.m.: Days before the major water main break, DeKalb County Watershed Management director Scott Towler submitted a scathing resignation letter to the county's deputy chief operating officer. Towler accused Ted Rhinehart and DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond of urging him to make decisions that violate federal and state laws, The AJC has learned.
9:44 a.m.: Agnes Scott College is on a two-hour delay due to low water pressure in some areas and outages in others, according to the institution.
9:35 a.m.: DeKalb County workers have isolated the water main break near Buford Highway, the county said.
Work will begin to assess damage to the water system and restore pressure and flow throughout the system.
9:32 a.m.: Emory University will close at 10 a.m. due to the water main break.
The university’s Druid Hills campus is affected but not the Yerkes Gwinnett or Oxford College campuses, which remain open.
9:23 a.m.: Atlanta Journal-Constitution multimedia journalist John Spink came across Carson Akney and his father, Harry Akney, as they examined a sinkhole behind Atlanta Wholesale Company on Buford Highway.
9:18 a.m.: The DeKalb campus and the Starnes Athletic Training Center at Georgia Piedmont Technical College will open at noon.
The South DeKalb campus will remain open.
9:16 a.m.: All DeKalb library branches are scheduled to open at 11 a.m. due to water outages or low water pressure at some locations.
“However, further delay is possible if water issues are still unresolved later this morning,” library officials said in a statement.
Check the library system’s Facebook page for updates.
9:15 a.m.: The Atlanta office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is closed today, the agency announced. Appointments are being rescheduled. Check here for updates.
9:09 a.m.: The cause of the break, what component failed, and why, hasn't been determined, DeKalb spokesman Andrew Cauthen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
9 a.m.: The DeKalb County Emergency Operation Center is open.
While crews are working to repair the broken water main, state resources are being deployed to ensure public safety, according to DeKalb County.
“Eight tankers are being brought into the county to supply water for fire protection and to fill chillers at hospitals,” county officials said in a statement. “The state is on standby to assist as needed.”
An 11 a.m. briefing will take place at Doraville City Council Chambers, located at 3725 Park Avenue, the county said.
ATTN: An 11 a.m. briefing will take place at Doraville City Council Chambers, located at 3725 Park Avenue, Doraville.
7:27 a.m.: Residents are urged to boil and conserve water after a break occurred in a 48-inch transmission main at 5718 Buford Highway in Doraville.
The county’s water plant is pumping at capacity, but water pressure is low, DeKalb officials said.
The county issued the following media statement:
“In an abundance of caution for our citizens and to protect the public from any potential health hazards, residents in the affected area are being asked to boil water for at least one minute after water comes to a rolling boil prior to drinking, cooking or preparing baby food.”
7:25 a.m.: Atlanta Journal-Constitution multimedia journalist John Spink is on the scene of the water main break in Doraville. He captured this video.
7:12 a.m.: "We are experiencing a water outage in the city of Decatur," spokeswoman Renae Madison told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
7:04 a.m.: Water pressure at DeKalb Medical is low. The hospital posted this message on Facebook:
“Due to a county water main break, water pressure is low right now. Patient safety is always (our) number one priority and please be aware that we have measures in place to keep our current patients safe! However, elective surgeries scheduled for later today will be rescheduled. We will keep you updated.”
6:54 a.m.: City Schools of Decatur posted this message on its Facebook page:
“A county-wide water outage is impacting all of our schools. City Schools of Decatur will operate on a two-hour delay today, March 7, 2018, to give us time to assess the situation. All start times for schools and staff as well as scheduled bus pick-up times will be delayed by two hours. Students participating in early morning activities will be contacted by someone from their school. Please prepare for the possibility that school could be canceled. We will send updates as soon as we receive additional information.”
UPDATE [6:53 a.m.]: About 15 schools and two school district offices may be affected by a water outage, DeKalb County School District spokeswoman Eileen Houston-Stewart said.
“We have contingency plans in such cases,” she said. “We will evaluate the situation once the students arrive and determine next steps.”
Buford Highway is flooded just north of I-285 in DeKalb County due to a water main break.
It is not clear when the water main break will be repaired.
The incident, which is blocking both directions of the highway as well as a ramp to I-285, is not stopping people from driving through the area. All morning, cars have attempted to pass through the standing water.
The Traffic Center urges drivers to avoid the area and use Peachtree Industrial Boulevard as an alternate route.
We’re working to learn more.
— Staff writers Johnny Edwards, Ligaya Figueras, Becca J.G. Godwin, Michael E. Kanell, Tia Mitchell and Brad Schrade contributed to this article.
» For updated traffic information, listen to News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB and follow @ajcwsbtraffic on Twitter.