Major water main breaks at University Village

by: Alison Grande Updated:

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SEATTLE - Tuesday night, residents near Seattle's University Village are faced with brown water coming from their faucets.  The water main break and change in water pressure stirred up sediment.

The Kannapell family noticed it after dinner, after they’d eaten salad washed with the brown water.

“That’s probably a lot of rust and sediment that’s inside the pipes, “ said Len Kannapell.  The water pressure was so strong when he turned the water on, the faucet came off.

Seattle Public Utilities says the water is  safe, but agrees it’s unappealing.  The utilities recommends users to run the cold water until it is clear.

The Kannapells won’t be drinking it any time soon. “We have some bottled water we’ll drink. No, we’re not going to touch that tonight,” said Vera Trainer, Kannapell’s wife.

A major water main broke, flooding parts of the popular University Village shopping center, sparking evacuations on parts of the UW campus and leaving hundreds without water.

>>> Alison Grande is continuing to cover this story Wednesday. She is looking into how much water spilled, what caused the water main break -- and who will pay for the damages. Watch her report at 5 p.m. Wednesday on KIRO 7 Eyewitness News

 The break occurred under the Northeast 45th Street viaduct at 25th Avenue Northeast.  

There was a major landscaping construction project going on in that spot on the University Village property before the water main broke, sending water spewing in a geyser nearly 40 feet high.  At times it actually hit the underside of the viaduct.

Officials from the Seattle Fire department and Seattle Public Utilities would only say the cause of the break is under investigation.

Seattle Public Utilities said as soon as the 16-inch high-pressure water main broke, crews began shutting off valves from University Village up to the area known as Greek Row on 17th Avenue Northeast. It took nearly 40 minutes for utility crews to get the water shut off.   Hundreds were without water service.

 Video from Chopper 7 showed the area under the viaduct inundated with water and a bike path washed out from the force of the rushing water.

SEE PHOTOS OF THE WATER MAIN BREAK HERE

 Northeast 45th Street was closed between Mountlake Boulevard and 22nd Avenue Northeast for two hours, but reopened by 5 p.m.  Three Metro bus routes were rerouted.

People who parked their cars in a lot beside Blue C Sushi, the business closest to the water main, were stranded without their vehicles unless they braved the flooded lot.  Mall security guards appeared to be up to their ankles in water.

Stephen Hamilton was inside the restaurant when the main broke.  Hamilton said he first figured out something was wrong from the look on the sushi chef's face, who was facing the window.    

“One of the chefs behind the counter put his hands on his face and ‘oh my God’, looking out the window. I turned around and saw the gusher and it was shooting two-thirds up the bridge,” described Hamilton, a senior at UW.

It wasn't until minutes later that he realized his car was parked in the lot that was filling with water.

Hamilton was able to move his SUV to the corner of the lot where ground was a little higher, but said security wouldn't let him drive it out because they were concerned it was unsafe. Crews brought in a pump truck to try to clear out the water and Hamilton was able to leave.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Alison Grande walked through the shopping area. While water clearily filled the street, and at one point lapped at storefronts, it did not get high enough to flood the stores.

But stores were prepared - at Headlines Salon, “We had sand bags and wet towels. The owner of our shop came down he was ready. We were all ready, “ said Susan O’Donnell.

At the University of Washington, 64 buildings on campus had alarms sound, presumably because of the water main break.  Husky Stadium's massive siren sounded and an evacuation announcement was played for at least  15 minutes.

UW football Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff evacuated briefly, but the university reported that while some campus buildings had low water pressure, they were not flooded or otherwise affected by the break.

Update: Seattle Public Utilities fixed the water main and restored service to residents and businesses at around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. The cause of the break remains under investigation. Customers experiencing brown water are advised to let the water run until it is clear before drinking it. The discolored water comes from internal pipe rust and sediment getting stirred up. When this happens the water is still safe, although it may be unappealing.