City blames wear and tear for broken water main
By Kevin Gould, CTV Montreal
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 8:36AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 6:57PM EST
The city of Montreal is blaming wear and tear for the water main break that sent 40 million litres of water gushing into the streets of the downtown core.
A water main connected to the McTavish Reservoir broke late Monday afternoon, turning streets into rivers and washing people down hills.
After that pipe was turned off a hole in a second pipe was discovered, and as of Tuesday at 10 a.m. that second leak is continuing to send water onto the McGill campus.
On Monday, water flowed downhill along University St. from Pine Ave. all the way to Ste. Catherine St. and beyond for nearly two hours until crews managed to get those valves closed, and in the cold temperatures the water rapidly turned to ice.
Crews had been doing work at the top of the hill and initial reports said that a backhoe operator had punched through a large pipe, but on Tuesday morning Chantal Morissette of the city of Montreal said the real reason was the failure of another pipe. She said no work was being done on the water main that broke, but that it had collapsed due to age and erosion.
Morissette said 40 million litres of water flowed downhill until workers were able to turn off three water mains that fed the area.
"To turn off the water, we have to turn off the pipes in sequence," Morissette told reporters.
Buildings and streets closed
On Tuesday University St. remained closed between Sherbrooke St. and Pine Ave., and several buildings which suffered flood damage were also closed.
The EMSB announced Tuesday that the FACE school, located on University St. would be closed for the day.
McGill University said water was still flowing into campus from the Reservoir, forcing the closure of the Milton Gate on University St., and several buildings in that area.
Classes were cancelled in Wilson Hall and the Birks Building while classes which normally take place in the Wong Building were relocated.
The University expected that some buildings would re-open at noon, but was advising people to only use the Roddick Gates on the McTavish St. entrance to get to the lower campus.
Fording downtown streets
Getting through the water on Monday evening was a challenge for everyone.
Buses and cars were rerouted around Pine and Peel, and although the metro lines were not affected, walking to the doors proved a challenge.
On Monday night people who were trying to leave McGill, like Adam Taylor, had to be careful while wading through gushing water.
"Police were telling people to go. I asked them if I could get past and they said, "Yeah, just avoid the open manholes," said Taylor.
In some places the water was knee deep with a current that could knock over adults. One woman was spotted trying to cross University St. only to be knocked over by the current and sent sliding several hundred metres downhill.
Firefighters eventually got creative to get workers out of office buildings on Mansfield Ave. They used ladders to create bridges that ran from doorways to higher and drier ground.
In some cases they gave piggyback rides to people who couldn't ford the current.
One woman who was carried to safety was shivering and cold.
"I fell, I fell already, I'm soaking wet," she told CTV Montreal's Annie DeMelt.
Many people found plastic garbage bags to tie around their legs to stay dry.
"I went down to one of the buildings and I saw a garbage trolley and someone was taking so I took one too," said one young woman.
Firefighters, city crews worked through the night
Firefighters spent hours poking holes in the ice to make sure water could drain into sewers, and city crews spent the evening and overnight spreading salt and pushing ice and water off of streets and sidewalks.
Fire Chief Gordon Routley said firefighters were planning to spend the night pumping water out of basements and other areas that had been flooded.
"We're going building by building through this area downstream to see where we need to get our pumps into and get our salvage equipment in," said Routley.
By all reports crews did an excellent job, and it was easy for commuters to walk and drive through most of the affected area on Tuesday.
Firefighters say it is fortunate the water was flowing downhill into manholes and away from businesses, however the floodwaters knocked out power to at least two floors of Place Ville Marie.
Mayor Michael Applebaum spent the evening in the downtown core. He said the city would get to the bottom of what went wrong.
"We'll look at exactly what happened, why did this water main break, and try to figure out how we can make sure this doesn't happen in the future," said Applebaum.
Engineering students build bridge, dam
The common struggle had people looking out for each other.
Some students dragged a tarp over a massive puddle near McGill's Roddick Gates and helped people make their way across Sherbrooke St. without soaking their feet.
Further up on campus, students used recycling bins, garbage cans, and anything they could grab to build a makeshift dam. They then spent hours shovelling water away from buildings.
"It was kind of a domino effect," said Andre St. Jacques. "One person started helping out and then a few others hopped on. And this is the engineering building so the engineers started building a dam."
City crews have been working on Montreal's aged water infrastructure for years, and will be for decades to come as part of a billion-dollar-project to replace water mains and sewer lines.
Water main breaks are common and the area around McGill University has seen major breaks in 2012 and 2011, although this is the first one in winter.
With pipes feeding and leading away from the McTavish Reservoir being, on average, 123 years old , the city of Montreal announced last summer a year-long project to rip up and replace the decrepit pipes.
Crews began reconstructing water mains around the pumping station and reservoir in 2010, and last October on Pine Ave. between Doctor Penfield Ave. and McTavish Rd., and in December continued the second phase of the project, on Doctor Penfield between McTavish and Pine Ave.
In April crews are expected to replace pipes along Pine Ave. between Doctor Penfield and Durocher St.
In 2014 crews will began a massive project: repairing the reservoir itself.
With files from The Canadian Press
MyNews user Joe Z. shared this video of a firefighter rescuing a woman being pushed by the current
The video below posted to YouTube shows someone swept up in the flood, helpless against the tide washing out the street.