SEATTLE - When they first saw the towering spray of water gushing out of the ground, University Village Mall shoppers were mesmerized. Minutes later, they were stranded by floodwaters that filled the parking lot.
A 16-inch cast iron high-pressure water main ruptured three feet underground, beneath the Northeast 45th street viaduct, scouring a crater deep enough to bury a van.
“It turned part of the U-Village into an island,” said Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore. “We had a hundred cars stranded in the parking lot because the water kept flowing.” Stores in the mall never closed, although shoppers were unable to access several retailers for more than two hours.
Before Seattle Public Utilities crews could stop the flow, water flowed over nearby parking lots, and it collapsed a paved bike path above the main. Engineers worried the torrent might undermine the bridge supports for the 45th Street Viaduct, and they stopped traffic for almost ninety minutes.
The rupture also cut the flow of tap water for thousands of people, from The U-District through Ravenna. “No water at my apartment,” said Jeff Went, a UW student. “I saw the live stream on KIROTV.com, I saw the Chopper 7 helicopter and I knew where my water was going,” he said.
Although there was construction and landscaping near the main, city engineers cautioned against assuming workers were to blame. “This could have been caused by anything,” said Seattle Public Utilities spokesman Andy Ryan. “We have to investigate, but a water main can break from moving earth, or freezing and thawing, or from an error in installation. It’s too early to tell.”
Ryan added that if construction crews were found responsible, they would likely have to pay for repairs and damage.
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.