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State of emergency declared in Atlanta over massive water main break

Officials were widely criticized for being slow to update citizens on the situation.
Atlanta Water Main Break June 1 2024
Posted at 10:57 AM, Jun 02, 2024

Water pressure was returning to downtown Atlanta and nearby neighborhoods on Sunday after a two-day water outage shut down businesses and left faucets dry at many homes.

A large swath of the city remained under an order to boil water before drinking it, but Mayor Andre Dickens said in a late Saturday news conference that one of the two major water main breaks affecting the city had been repaired.

"I know it's been a tough and frustrating day for many of you, but I'm glad to have some positive news to report tonight," Dickens said.

The first-term Democratic mayor, who faces reelection in 2025, was again apologetic, even as residents continued to savage the city's response. Among the critics: Megan Thee Stallion, whose Friday and Saturday night shows at downtown's State Farm Arena were canceled.

"Call the mayor! All day they've been telling us we can perform," the rapper said in a video she posted Saturday.

Arena management said they hoped to have a Sunday night show to make up for the Friday night performance.

The problems began Friday morning where three large water mains intersect just west of downtown. Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Al Wiggins Jr. said at a Saturday news conference that at least some of the pipes that burst were old and corroded. With pipes coming together in a confined area, it was a tight squeeze to make repairs, with only one worker at a time working in the manhole accessing the junction. Repairs were completed Saturday evening, officials said.

Another water main later burst in the city's Midtown neighborhood, which is studded with new office, hotel and apartment towers. Wiggins said Saturday that officials weren't sure yet why that pipe had broken. That leak continued to gush through the city streets Sunday. City officials said Saturday that they were working on ways to isolate the leak from the larger water system and were awaiting a part needed to repair to the pipe. Dickens declared a state of emergency so the city could buy materials and hire workers without following the normal purchasing laws.

Faltering infrastructure is a common story in older parts of American cities. Atlanta has spent billions in recent years to upgrade its aging sewer and water infrastructure, including a tunnel drilled through 5 miles of rock to provide the city with more than 30 days of stored water. Last month, voters approved continuing a 1-cent sales tax to pay for federally mandated sewer upgrades. The city at one time routinely dumped untreated sewage into creeks and the Chattahoochee River.

City workers spent much of Saturday handing out water and setting up portable toilets at several fire stations while checking on senior citizens who live in high-rise residences.

Officials were widely criticized for being slow to update citizens on the situation. The city and its water management department sent out an update after 8 p.m. Friday and waited more than 12 hours to update residents again. Dickens didn't address the media until 2 p.m. Saturday, explaining he was in Memphis, Tennessee, when the problem began.

Someone in the affected area posted flyers around the neighborhood asking "Don't have water?" and "Help us find our mayor."

Some attractions and businesses, including the Georgia Aquarium, reopened on Sunday, although the aquarium warned that the boil water order meant no ice or fountain drinks in its cafeteria.