North Philadelphia

Here Is What a 48-Inch Water Main Pipe Looks Like After It Explodes

A 48-inch pipe burst and trapped unlucky drivers before firefighters rescued them Tuesday evening. It's the newest water disaster in a series of them to strike in North Philadelphia in the last decade.

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Eleven people needed to be rescued by water craft in the middle of North Philadelphia on Tuesday and we may never know why.

That's what the city Water Department is saying after the most recent water main break in Philadelphia. A city Water Department spokesman said evidence is hard to gather after millions of gallons of water rip apart a street.

"A lot of times, it’s not even conclusive (what caused the break)," Water Department spokesman Brian Rademaekers said Wednesday. "A large disruption occurs and millions of gallons are spilled, so it’s hard to put the pieces back together. And then, sometimes it’s very obvious.”

The aging infrastructure of Philadelphia's utilities is often a contributing factor to disasters like the break on Hunting Park Avenue near Westmoreland Street, but the exact age of the section of pipe that burst Tuesday is still being investigated.

Here's what the pipe looked like Wednesday as Water Department workers worked at the blast site:

A 10-foot section of a transmission water main, which is 48 inches in diameter and one of the larger pipes that feeds water to smaller neighborhood mains, is seen Feb. 17, 2021 on Hunting Park Avenue near Westmoreland Street. (NBC10 SkyForce10)

A 48-inch water main broke on Hunting Park Avenue near Westmoreland Street around 6 p.m. Tuesday and quickly swamped numerous people in their cars. Elizabeth Anderson was one of the unlucky drivers.

"Water started coming into my car," Anderson said. "So I had to stand on top of my car because it was like I was going to drown in my car."

When her front door didn't open, Anderson opened the back door and climbed to the top of her vehicle.

"That was like, really, really scary because I can't swim," Anderson said. "So when I stepped into the water, I was like, 'Oh my God. I can't feel my feet.' So I jumped on top of the car," she said.

Rescue crews responded to a massive water main break in North Philadelphia. SkyForce10 was over the scene.

Responding crews used boats to rescue her and at least ten other people who were either stuck in their vehicles or a nearby U-Haul storage facility.

The Water Department said a 10-foot section of the transmission main, which means it feeds water to smaller neighborhood mains, blew out in the initial rupture and has to be replaced. That could take months.

All water for nearby homes and businesses were restored by Wednesday, however.

The hole in Hunting Park Avenue near Westmoreland Street the day after a massive water main break that occurred on Feb. 16, 2021. (NBC10 SkyForce10)

December through March is when the most water mains break in Philadelphia, Rademaekers said, though it's unusual even for this time of year for such a massive pipe to burst.

"This is a pretty rare incident that occurred here. In last 12 months, we’ve only have two transmission breaks," he said. "A majority of our breaks are (of pipes) under 12 inches."

Still, that area of North Philadelphia has a particularly troublesome history with water main breaks. Tuesday's disaster occurred blocks away from the site of other massive water main breaks in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Philadelphia water department workers literally listen for leaks along 1,000 miles of underground pipeline. With an average of nearly two water main breaks a day, NBC10 Investigator Mitch Blacher looks at the challenges of maintaining the nation’s oldest water infrastructure.

Bernard Young was one of the people trapped inside the nearby U-Haul facility.

"By the time I got out of there or tried to get out of there, I came to the front door. It was like Niagara Falls through the windows," he said.

Anyone who still has water issues in the area of the main break should call the Water Department hotline at 215-685-6300.

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