After Pipes Burst in Atlanta, Many Residents Lose Water, Then Patience


A series of water main breaks in Atlanta caused widespread disruption on Saturday, as outages and severely reduced water pressure forced some businesses to close and infuriated residents who criticized city officials for failing to provide timely updates.

Reports of interrupted service began on Friday after corroded water pipes burst near downtown; it was unclear exactly when the ruptures occurred. The disruptions continued into Saturday, with many people still experiencing very low water pressure. Residents across a swath of the city were under a boil-water notice, which advised them to use bottled water or boil tap water.

Utility and city officials said on Saturday evening that the repairs had been completed at the site of the water main break that caused most of the disrupted service. They said that the “system is gradually being brought back online,” allowing for water pressure to increase. No contamination had been found in preliminary tests of the water, but the boil-water notice remained in effect, officials said.

The outages forced businesses to close or limit their services, and some hospitals had to divert patients and cancel certain procedures. Events were canceled and rescheduled, including Megan Thee Stallion concerts that thousands were planning to attend on Friday and Saturday. Residents in many neighborhoods — as well as guests in downtown hotels — had to get by using bottled water or what little came dripping out of their faucets.

Many seethed over a lack of information. As hours went by, officials provided little word about the status of restoring service.

“This is absurd and Atlanta should be ashamed,” one resident wrote on Facebook in response to a post from the city government announcing the boil-water notice. “This is unsanitary and dangerous!”

In a news conference on Saturday afternoon, Mayor Andre Dickens apologized for the inconveniences and upended weekend plans. He also acknowledged the city’s failure to adequately update residents. “Overnight, we did not do the best job communicating,” Mr. Dickens said from the site of the most significant water main break.

“Cities can’t function, lives can’t function without it,” he added, referring to reliable water service. “It is a priority that has our fullest attention.”

The pipes burst in an area where three major water lines intersect. On Friday morning, the city watershed management agency started shutting down valves, leading to decreases in water pressure to nearby hospitals and government facilities.

The service disruptions were concentrated in the core of the city, affecting downtown hotels, tourist attractions and state and city government offices, and then rippled out into the surrounding densely populated residential areas.

The troubles were compounded by another major main break in the city’s Midtown neighborhood.

Officials said there had been some technical setbacks while the work was underway to restore service., adding that they were balancing speed with caution to avoid causing further damage to an aging system.

“We understand the urgency of getting water service restored,” Al Wiggins Jr., the commissioner of the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, told reporters on Saturday. “But we want to make sure we do it in a manner that does not cause any further regression our of work.”

But Mr. Dickens also sought to dampen the anger and exasperation that was stewing in the city, promising that crews were working diligently and the city would be more forthcoming in updating residents.

“Let me just be clear, these people are working tirelessly,” Mr. Dickens said of the crews at work next to him as he spoke on Saturday afternoon. “They are working as fast as humanly possible and as carefully as humanly possible to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”



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