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Two water main breaks injure 1, close roads, cause damage

Updated: November 22, 2021 at 5:39 PM PST

Update: The City of San Diego issued a boil water notice to the following addresses:

  • 545 Laurel St.
  • 2302, 2350, 2395 and 2402 Sixth Ave.
  • 1210 11th Ave.
  • 1280 12th Ave.
  • 1011 and 1110 A St.

State regulators will be testing the water daily to determine how long the boil water notice will be in effect.

Weekend water-main breaks in the East Village and the south end of Balboa Park kept a stretch of Interstate 5 and several freeway connector ramps in the bustling downtown area closed to through traffic Monday.

The first of the two pipeline failures began flooding traffic lanes at A Street and 11th Avenue about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, city officials reported. By 6:45 p.m., when repair workers got the overflow halted, the surging water had created a sinkhole and inundated at least one business.

About 3 1/2 hours after the first round of flooding began, an Uber driver reported that a geyser of water had burst through his windshield and a passenger window, injuring a customer, on an SR-163 offramp near I-5, the California Highway Patrol reported. It took crews roughly six hours to get the flow of water under control.

The extent of the Uber rider's injuries was unclear.

A flooded Interstate 5 after two water main breaks in downtown San Diego shutting down the freeway in both directions, Nov. 22, 2021.
10News
A flooded Interstate 5 after two water main breaks in downtown San Diego shutting down the freeway in both directions, Nov. 22, 2021.

People living within six blocks of the breaks were without water or had low water pressure. People lugging water down the street was a common sight downtown Monday but some just could not carry water to their apartments from the water buffalo stations set up by the city outside for daily necessities.

"I need a cup of coffee," said Suzie Ditmars, who has lived in San Diego for 56 years. She said she's never seen anything like this and the lack of information is frustrating,

"You can’t flush the toilet and there’s no drinking water so they’re giving it out there, the word has got out that the truck is there and they’re giving handing bottles of water out, so do we know how long this is going to last?" she said. "And it’s so typical of San Diego there's no upkeep in this town."

Olga Cordova who only spoke Spanish said she had to go fill a bucket of water just for her and her family to wash their hands. She said this is especially worrisome during a pandemic

"It’s affecting us to wash our hands, showering, it’s been this way since yesterday," Cordova said. "If we want to use the restroom, or just wash our faces and hands we can’t just be eating with dirty hands like this we are all worried. I hope this is fixed fast."

During a news conference Monday afternoon Mayor Todd Gloria said it took a while to locate the right valves to shut off the water and it kept flowing until it was all flushed out.

This shows the importance of infrastructure, he said.

"Neither pipe was scheduled to be replaced anytime soon I want to point out the importance of investing in infrastructure," Gloria said. "People like to tell me a lot that infrastructure is not sexy, it’s pretty darn sexy when things like this happen we have to prioritize investing in infrastructure ... . We want to replace our infrastructure before it gets in a situation like this."

He could not give an exact number of residents affected but when asked if the city was doing anything to reach out to elderly people who could not carry water to their buildings, he asked San Diegans to help each other until water could be restored by day’s end.

"This is a situation where I’d ask neighbors to help neighbors," he said. "If you have a neighbor that you know has mobility issues knock on their door check on them."

Gloria said Caltrans will have to give the OK to open up the freeways and some may have to boil water but state regulators will decide who, how many and for how long.

As of Monday afternoon, the northbound side of I-5 was still closed between Hawthorne Street and Sixth Avenue, with traffic being detoured onto the latter street and northbound SR-163. Also remaining blocked off were the connectors from southbound SR-163 to northbound I-5 and Fourth Avenue, as well as the northbound SR-163 ramp to northbound I-5, the CHP advised.

Authorities said they hoped to have all the affected stretches of roadway open again by early evening.