Flushing a toilet, taking a shower, or just getting a drink of water are just hours away for Harrisburg residents reeling from a sinkhole, who could have water and sewer service sooner than first expected.
About six feet inside a square hole cut out in the middle of N. 4th Street, crews on Monday worked to tape a "hot" water pipe. According to an official with the state Department of Environmental Protection, a second required water test was conducted early Monday. If the second test results return clear, water could be restored as early as Monday evening.
It has been one week since a garbage truck got stuck in a sinkhole in the 2100 block of N. 4th Street. A day later, crews were dealing with a second sinkhole on the same block. Described as a canyon, the massive sinkhole expanded last Thursday and even swallowed a large backhoe.
On day seven of the sinkhole mayhem, clarity arrived. Harrisburg Public Works first reported a sewer line broke and caused the sinkhole. According to Public Works director Paul Francis, a water pipe dating to the late 1800's eroded over time, washed away the sandy soil beneath the street and created a void, which caused the street to collapse from the weight.
Twenty-nine homes were evacuated Tuesday night after residents lost vital services. Friday evening, the American Red Cross said 19 children and 13 adults were assisted as a result of the evacuation. A town hall meeting the same night prompted the YWCA to open shower services for affected residents.
Last week, Public Works also maintained the repairs would take 35 days to complete. Officials said residents would have water by mid-week. However, many were still confused on the sewer situation.
Francis explained Monday that the existing sewer pipe is still intact. The old pipe will act as the temporary line while crews install a new sewer pipe next to the existing pipe. Francis said gas, water, and sewer should not be disrupted while the month-long project is taking place.
During a luncheon for the Rotary Club of Harrisburg, Mayor Linda Thompson acknowledged there were some communication errors and confusion.
"Yeah, about the sewer line collapsing. Yeah, but no, the sewer line is sufficiently able to handle the service in that area," Thompson said. "It was the water line we had to rebuild temporarily."
The DEP also offered clarity involving the required water tests needed. According to a spokesperson with DEP, during an emergency situation where crews are repairing an existing water line, the law requires only one test.
Because the pipe at the N. 4th Street location is a new water line, two consecutive tests within 24 hours must be completed. According to DEP, a test was conducted Sunday evening and the second was completed early Monday morning.
Both Francis and DEP said water and sewer should be restored to residents as early as Monday evening.
Thompson also said she is working different avenues to obtain funds to help purchase equipment needed to detect voids within the city that could potentially cause sinkholes. Thompson added failing infrastructure is an issue that would cost billions to fix.
Last Friday, newly sworn in Dauphin County state Representative Patty Kim and new state Senator Rob Teplitz surveyed the sinkhole and vowed to fight for state funds. Kim, a former Harrisburg City council member, became frustrated when she witnessed the damage firsthand.
"It's almost like a time bomb," said Kim. "We don't know when these roads are going to collapse."
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