LOWELL — A major water main burst just before 3:30 p.m. Monday, spewing thousands of gallons of water into several neighborhood streets in The Acre, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
“We received a report of a water main break in the area of Father Morissette Boulevard by Suffolk Street,” said Lowell Police Department Deputy Superintendent Mark LeBlanc. “Responding officers arrived on scene to find an active and substantial flow of water in the area to include parts of Father Morissette Boulevard, Moody and Cabot streets. Officers secured the area, and worked with the Lowell Fire Department in evacuating affected residents.”
Sources in the Lowell Regional Water Utility, who did not want to be named, said the break occurred at a gate valve on a water main. A large sinkhole emerged from the receding waters once the water main was capped, at which point residential operations were started.
Deputy Fire Chief Bob Destrempe said firefighters were forced to evacuate residents of four single-family homes located on Race Street due to flooded basements.
Even more demanding was the evacuation of the 192-unit City View Towers, run by the Lowell Housing Authority, which is located at 657 Merrimack St. The building is home to senior residents and people who are disabled.
According to Destrempe, the water entered the basement, causing issues with the building’s electrical system.
“All their transformers are all down in the basement, and it was getting hairy as the water was coming up,” Destrempe said. “Some of the electrical was starting to smoke a little and there was a transformer that blew and it was pushing smoke into the building.”
National Grid was called to the scene, the power was shut off, and the decision was made to evacuate the building.
Destrempe said firefighter crews went to each floor to help all the residents, which included those who were unable to walk themselves out of the eight-story structure.
“Extensive manpower was needed for this operation,” Destrempe said. “Everybody got out safe. Nobody got hurt. Everybody has been calm and it’s been very orderly.”
With some belongings in hand, Guy Quinn, 72, who has lived at City View Towers for about six years, stood outside the building shortly before 8 p.m. According to Quinn, he was waiting for some family members to pick him up.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” Quinn said. “I thought they would fix it, but I guess they couldn’t do that. They want to make sure everything is right.”
Curtis Chanthaboun, of Lowell, said he saw the gushing water trap cars and lap the front porches of several homes with knee-deep water.
“Houses and cars are surrounded by water,” Chanthaboun said. “The Fire Department did a water boat rescue to some of the houses, and one family got out.”
Priscilla Gonzalez, who lives in an apartment complex off Race Street, said she was concerned about the condition of her car that was sitting in the complex’s now flooded parking lot. The water reached nearly the top of the car’s tires.
“I wasn’t able to move it,” Gonzalez said about her car. “The water was already past my knee and the water was so cold.”
The Lowell Water Utility posted a “Water Main Break Alert” on the ongoing situation.
“There is a large water main break in the downtown area, which is affecting many areas within the city,” read the statement. “Unfortunately, while this emergency repair is being addressed, you may experience discolored water or low pressure.”
The Lowell Police Department issued a traffic advisory for motorists to seek alternate routes and to expect delays.
The Ayotte Garage, at 11 Post Office Square, will be open for free parking for residents in the affected area.
The Lowell Senior Center at 276 Broadway St., and the Mercier Center at 21 Salem St., were opened for area residents affected by the water main break, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services were assisting.
Once the repair has been made, the utility advised that the water pressure will return to normal. Brown or discolored water can be cleared by running the cold water taps for approximately 10 minutes.