Repairs continue as DeKalb recovers from water main break


The Chick-fil-A in Doraville, just feet away from the site of a water main break that crippled DeKalb County, was open on Thursday. But customers could only order via the drive-thru and the menu was limited to sandwiches and nuggets.

A sister store in downtown Decatur remained closed on Thursday, although employees told customers that they were hoping to open on Friday by mimicking the Doraville location’s model.

These are the kinds of decisions businesses faced in the aftermath of the massive spill that caused water pressure issues and closures on Wednesday and led to a countywide boil water advisory. Although water pressure was back to normal on Thursday, some restaurants remained closed.

The water main break caused inconveniences throughout the county starting early Wednesday morning. Schools and colleges closed. Hospitals turned away ambulances and cancelled surgeries. Businesses sent workers home. Bottled water sold out in the stores and gas stations.

By Thursday, just about everything was back to normal. Reginald Wells, interim director of the Watershed Management Department, said calls to Watershed Management were at the usual levels.

DeKalb officials said that Doraville police first noticed something was amiss around 2 a.m. Wednesday, but initially they thought it was a faulty hydrant or a lesser water main breach. It was 5 a.m. when the source of the leak and the severity of the issue was established.

The county issued a press release announcing the boil water advisory at 7:28 a.m. that morning. Water pressure had dropped so severely countywide that the water supply became vulnerable to contamination.

A text message alert was sent through the county’s Code Red system at 8:29 a.m. and again at 9 a.m.

Lorraine Murray, who lives in Decatur, said she woke up at 7 a.m. to start her day and noticed the low pressure when she turned on the faucet. She believes the alert came too late, after people had started their morning routines.

“This means that huge numbers of people in DeKalb County woke up and drank tap water — just like I did,” she said. “They also gave water to their babies and small children.”

DeKalb officials said Thursday that it is too early to talk about how the spill was handled and what lessons they have learned. They said their focus was on repairing more than 60 linear feet of the 48-inch water main.

“The plan is to have all the pipe work finished and water being put on the system early Saturday morning at the latest,” said Reginald Wells, interim director of the Watershed Management Department.

The county also hoped that by Saturday the Georgia Environmental Protection Division would decide whether the boil water notice could be lifted.

In announcing that schools would reopen on Thursday, the DeKalb County School District said that it would provide bottled water and hand sanitizer for students. Meals would be prepared without water.

Parents were encouraged to send their kids to school with bottled water. The community also chipped in.

The DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency partnered with Walmart to donate more than 72,000 bottles of water to 130 public schools and three DeKalb Medical campuses. Local realtors delivered pallets of water to Chamblee and Redan high schools after rallying on social media.

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