500 Manhole Covers Stolen From City Streets In Past Year

Water Department Employee Calls It 'Emergency Situation'

PHILADELPHIA -- Who has been stealing hundreds of manhole covers in Philadelphia?

It has left a dangerous situation with open manholes that kids could fall into and neighbors said are disasters just waiting to happen.

Those neighbors turned to the NBC 10 Investigators, who were told 500 manhole covers have been stolen in the city during the last year.

When NBC 10 went out to investigate, cameras found the Philadelphia Water Department hard at work trying to fix the problem. But open manholes remain all over the city.Investigative reporter Lu Ann Cahn said it's clearly a dangerous situation. One false step and you could drop 4 to 6 feet.

There were so many manhole covers stolen from Harley Street in Southwest Philadelphia that neighbors had them taped off, trying to prevent anyone from getting hurt.

"It's real dangerous. At night a child walking past, or early in the morning to walk past there playing, running, falling right down into the manhole," said William Green, of Southwest Philadelphia.

The rash of thefts has forced the water department to assign special crews to replace the 30-pound, cast-iron covers.

"Late at night they get a couple of guys to pick them up, throw them into the back of a truck so you keep going about your business," one water department employee said, describing how the thieves operate.

About 500 thefts in the last year has cost the water department and customers $50,000. That includes money spent for manhole cover locks.

"It'll stop them. Once we lock them down, they can't get them up," the department employee said.

Police said thieves are trying to sell the covers at scrap metal yards. The market is high for this heavy metal.

"They're worth 12 cents a pound, roughly," scrap yard owner David Richman said.

According to Richmond, people try to sneak the covers in on truckloads of scrap. He said when he finds them, he turns them back into the water department, but others don't.

Meanwhile, the thefts continue, and the water department said watch your step.

"Now, it's like an emergency situation," the department employee said.

The water department said it's really depending on the public to let them know where covers are missing, Cahn reported.

You can file a report by calling the department's hotline number, 215-685-6300.

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