Massive water main break leads to flooding, evacuations in Kingsessing

"It's one of the largest mains that the City of Philadelphia has," a fire official said.

A massive hole at South 56th and Springfield Avenue

A massive hole at South 56th and Springfield Avenue marks the spot of a water main break in West Philadelphia on Feb. 9, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A 48-inch water main broke in the Kingsessing section of Philadelphia Wednesday morning, leading to flooded roadways, homes being evacuated, and a school to close.

Cina Rorie, a nearby resident, was woken up at dawn by her daughter.

“She opened the door and it was like a flowing river. Six o’clock in the morning,” said Rorie, while watching the cleanup from her porch on 56th Street. “It was crazy to see. I see it on TV and other areas when it happens, but when I came out to this morning and it was just like, ‘Oh my God, what is going on?’”

The Philadelphia Fire Department received a call around 6:42 a.m. of a transmission water main break at the intersection of 56th Street and Springfield Avenue.

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Water pools at the intersection of South 56th and Chester Avenue after an early morning water main break on Feb. 9, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“It’s one of the largest mains that the City of Philadelphia has. So we’re talking hundreds, thousands of gallons of water,” Philadelphia Fire Deputy Chief Kamau Bright said.

Bright said as firefighters arrived on the scene, they rescued one resident from a basement apartment of a corner property.

“In total, five residents were removed and sheltered, and three properties were affected immediately,” Bright said.

Bright explained that, since this was a transmission main and not a distribution main, the break did not affect neighbors’ home water supply. Transmission mains are used to carry water to different parts of the city.

The flow of water was so intense it scattered bricks, gravel, and broken concrete down the 1600 block of 56th Street, and carried dirt and sand several blocks away.

“When you have a water main of this size, it delivers about 100 million gallons a day,” said Philadelphia Water Department spokesperson Brian Rademekers. “So when it breaks like that, you’re looking at somewhere around eight million gallons spilling over in a couple of hours.”

In the early morning, fire department crews went door to door, warning residents not to attempt to move their cars, and to avoid the rush of water filling the street from edge to edge.

Cars were towed from the scene of a water main break in West Philadelphia on Feb. 9, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“They knocked on everybody’s door,” said Emma Hilton, a resident of the 1600 block of South 56th Street. “Beware of the water, because the water is so high and flowing so hard it would take you away if you step out.”

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Crews from the city’s police, fire, water, electric, and gas departments were on the scene assessing and cleaning up damage. Philadelphia Gas Works had to dig into some residents’ front yards to access gas lines and cap them for safety.

SEPTA buses were brought in to provide shelter to those who need to evacuate their homes due to the floodwaters.

Workers with the Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Gas Works evaluate damage and cap utility lines on 56th Street and Springfield Avenue where a water main broke in West Philadelphia on the morning of Feb. 9, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

All other residents in the area were able to remain and shelter in their homes.

Resident Rick Burns, who has lived on the block for six years, was on his way to check his basement.

“I’ve never seen that much water on the block since I’ve been here,” Burns said.

Independence Charter School West, which is located at the 5600 block of Chester Avenue, announced classes would switch to virtual learning for the day due to “extensive flooding” in the neighborhood around the school.

With multiple streets blocked, drivers are being told to seek alternative routes and expect delays.

WHYY News partner 6abc contributed reporting.

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