Massive Water Main Break Prompts Road Closures, School Closures And Evacuations

Sep 20, 2019

A flush and boil order for Pennsylvania American Water customers in 35 municipalities was lifted on Sunday morning. The advidsory stemmed from a major water main break on East Agnew Avenue in Carrick Friday morning that forced the evacuation of some residents and flooded parts of Becks Run Road. 

*This post was updated at 9:54 a.m. to include more information. 

A Pennsylvania American Water spokesperson confirmed the 24-inch water main belonged to the company but couldn’t offer further information. Becks Run Road is closed between Brownsville Road and East Carson Street and as a precaution, power was cut in the area.

By roughly 11:20 a.m., the water was turned off and crews began to evaluate the damage. Officials described a massive hole the width of the road. The event was major, said Chris Tognieri, Pittsburgh Public Safety spokesperson. 

“It’s going to affect the city of Pittsburgh all the way down to the (Allegheny) County line. There’s going to be people without water for a significant amount of time,” he said.  

A release from Penn American notified residents of 35 municipalities of a flush-and-boil advisory. By 3 p.m. this afternoon, water tankers will be placed in locations throughout the affected areas.  

By noon, only one Pennsylvania American representative had been to East Agnew Avenue. Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told her to call her boss, saying, “I’ve been here for five hours trying to make sure people are safe.” 

Asked if officials had been able to communicate with Penn American, Tognieri said, “Communications have been a challenge for this … I’m not going to comment on Penn American.”

Before the water stopped flowing, Mary Buel looked over the barriers blocking access to her house at 413 East Agnew Ave. 

“I can’t believe it’s still running,” she said.

Buel wasn’t home when the main broke, but she got a phone call around 5 a.m. from her neighbor.

Buel looked down the hill toward her house and shook her head. “You hear all this on TV, but you never think this will happen to you.”

Wendy Gitzen and her mother, Rose Gitzen, live at 407 East Agnew Avenue and had to be rescued from their home. Initially, Wendy Gitzen thought the sound that woke her up was rain. At first she felt angry because forecasters hadn’t mentioned rain and she planned to go to an outdoor haunted house this evening.

Rose Gitzen walks up E. Agnew Ave. away from her house. She and her daughter Wendy had to be rescued when a water main broke this morning in Carrick.
Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

“And then I looked out the window and--have you ever been to the Ohiopyle?” she asked, referring to the rapids on the Youghiogheny River. “That’s what it was like. I was in shock.”

Gitzen woke up her mother and they called 911 and started getting their six cats in carriers. Emergency responders couldn’t get to them through the front door because the wave of water was too strong. They retreated to the dining room before crews were able to put a ladder down from the back deck to help them out.

According to a tweet from Pittsburgh Public Safety, the rush of water washed out the road and sent water into homes. Multiple agencies are now on the scene.

Kevin Kehren was working the overnight shift when Rose Gitzen, his neighbor, called to tell him what was happening. Kehren then called his wife and asked her to check for water in the basement of their brick house. She didn’t see any, but the family evacuated once Kehren got home after 6 a.m. They couldn’t see much at the time, it was pitch dark, he said, but authorities “asked everyone to leave because they smell gas.” 

Kehren said he hopes Penn American will make things right. 

“Not only with the water pipe but all the damages,” he said. “We’ll see how they do that. We haven’t heard from anybody on their behalf.”

A Penn American representative was not immediately available for comment.

Pittsburgh Public Schools cancelled classes at Beechwood, Brookline, Banksville, Carrick, Concord, Carmalt, Roosevelt, South Brook, Pioneer and West Liberty schools due to a lack of water. According to a notice on their website, recommendations on how to make up the lost time will be forthcoming.

The Keystone Oaks School District and Mt. Lebanon School District are also closed.

Parts of Baldwin have been affected, as have parts of Mt. Lebanon where some residents are experiencing low or no water pressure.