Water main break floods PG County basements; valuables, antiques all feared destroyed

A mixture of raw sewage and purified tap water spewed into at least six single-family homes along Bock Road Sunday due to a water main break. (ABC7)

A mixture of raw sewage and purified tap water spewed into at least six single-family homes along Bock Road Sunday due to a water main break.

“I don’t know if I can stand looking at all of that stuff," said 92-year-old Thelma Wike. "If it’s as much down there as you say, everything is ruined."

We met Wike while she sat in her dark living, bundled up in a winter coat, scarf and gloves. Her home was bitterly cold as the electricity was manually cut when mucky-brown water overtook her circuit breaker box.

Among the costly, yet replaceable items feared lost: a sofa, television, washer, dryer, furnace, hot water heater, freezer and refrigerator. However, the senior citizen was equally concerned about irreplaceable objects, such as her late husband's workbench, worktable and model airplanes, plus Christmas decorations, blankets and quilts.

“My husband made speakers many years ago. I had my records. Oh, my records! Oh my gosh, I forgot about those, albums, ya know,” Wike said, tears welling in her eyes.

Next door, Rochell Yacat's family suffered a similar fate. A basement water alarm began to sound around 11 a.m. Sunday. Yacat and her two sisters attempted to salvage items, but feared getting electrocuted in the quickly rising water. They called 911 when light smoke began to fill the home. Prince George's County firefighters later gave an all clear, but advised no one enter the basement waters.

“We have a bathroom and that’s where all the flooding started, like it started coming out of the toilet, like a water hose,” Yacat said atop a drenched stairwell leading into the waterlogged lower level. “My mom was crying, my dad was crying, because this is all of their stuff. We feel homeless right now."

Yacat's aunt lives in a basement bedroom, but is currently on vacation. Her aunt's jewelry is currently submerged in at least four feet of standing water, along with guitars, a drum set, sound system, flat screen television, comforters, clothing, Gucci bags and various family heirlooms.

“Our grandma passed away and all of her stuff is down there too. We have her bed and we just kept it down there, so we feel like we still have a piece of her with us. We’re really hoping that doesn’t get destroyed in the water, because that’s stuff you can’t replace," the young woman said, sorrow visible within her eyes.

At the home of an African American U.S. Army Korean War veteran, the primary concern is that a collection of Buffalo Soldier relics, like paintings and an antique revolver, will not survive the flood. The veteran, well in his 80s, kept mostly quiet, his rescue dog bringing him some sense of peace and distraction.

According to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), chilly temperatures likely caused an eight-inch cast iron pipe to rupture midday Sunday. The pipe, described as being average in size, carried pre-treated drinking water into the residential neighborhood. However, hours of underground leaking eventually overtook sewer mains, resulting in the flooding basements.

Since Wednesday, WSSC has staffed emergency crews around-the-clock. Each crew is working a minimum of 12-hours, with a goal repairing at least two water main breaks, per shift. On Sunday alone, WSSC had 26 day crews, eight evening crews and one overnight crew. The job is taxing and continuous.

Because the issue along Bock Road was caused by a faulty water main, and not an act of God, WSSC has offered to accommodate all impacted residents at area hotels until their homes are safe to live in again. The utility company is also promising to cover the full cost of repairing (or replacing) every item damaged or destroyed to include appliances, electronics, furniture and miscellaneous belongings. There is no coverage limit. A spokesman told ABC7 by telephone Sunday evening, "We will make things right."

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