SARANAC LAKE — It took 20 hours to repair a water main that shattered here on Friday, a job that in warm weather might take four to six hours.
“The difficulty was mostly due to the amount of frost in the ground,” Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney said Monday.
Department of Public Works crews had to use a hydraulic hammer to pound and chip through 4 feet of frozen-solid earth before they could get to the broken line 5 feet underground, he said.
The water-main break on Park Avenue between Circle and Baker streets was reported to Saranac Lake Police initially at about 11:30 p.m. Friday. Air temperatures hovered somewhere between 18 to 20 degrees that night.
The recent bitter, extended stretch of cold weather is likely what caused the break, Sweeney said.
“I think what is happening is the frost in the ground shifted the pipe around. It literally shattered this pipe, which then dumped approximately 500,000 gallons of water in about 30 minutes.
“The water lifted the asphalt surface of the road. It looked like a balloon.”
Zoe Smith and her family live in the Park Avenue neighborhood and saw the road bubble form, then burst.
“I would describe it as the road was up-heaved,” Smith said via email on Monday. “It was as if the earth shifted underneath the road and the asphalt was pushed up — sort of like a bubble but more what you’d expect to see from an earthquake.
“The equally fascinating thing,” she continued, “was the rushing wall of water that was flowing across the neighbor’s yard, hitting our house and diverting through our garden, over a small stone wall and directly into the neighbor’s house downhill.
“It was a very loud rush of probably 6 to 8 inches of water coming out and across the road into our yard.”
Village Department of Public Works crews dug through the gushing spout, first to disengage the water main, then to reach the pipe and replace it.
More than a dozen households were without water for some 20 hours, and on Monday, remained under a boil-water order.
To exacerbate the problem, a major structure fire drew Saranac Lake’s Fire Department to Santa Clara on Friday night and then out again Saturday morning to the corner of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue in the village, where a restaurant with apartments above it burned.
A fire truck did pump water from one Park Avenue residence due to the broken main. But Sweeney said it did not affect hydraulics available for fire response on Saturday.
Recent water-system updates helped keep water lines charged on nearby streets.
“The redesign of the village water system actually provides for better distribution of the water,” Sweeney said.
“Where it used to be five main lines, the system now is more like a spider web. That was really part of the goal with the water project.”
The Park Avenue water main was not updated in the project. But it does connect to part of the new system.
“This main was put in, I think, around 1968,” Sweeney said. “Catherine to the end of Park Avenue waterlines were installed from 1968 to 1970.”
DPW replaced about 20 feet of pipe then turned Park Avenue water back on.
Residents of that section aren’t to drink, cook, brush teeth or wash dishes with water from the tap unless it is boiled first, until the Health Department deems it potable.
Any time water pressure is off for more than four hours, a boil-water order is issued.
“We have to have two passing samples,” Sweeney said. “No matter how you do it, if you shut it off for more than four hours, you have to test the water.”
The second round of test results should be back by Wednesday, he said.
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