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Massive water main break in Sunset Park leaves residents, businesses searching for answers

SUNSET PARK — A massive water main break flooded the area near 44th Street and Fifth Avenue at around 4 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24, leaving hundreds of Sunset Park residents and businesses without running water.  

“Crews shut off water at about 11 a.m. and stopped the water leak,” Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Edward Timbers told this paper at around 9 p.m. “Priority now is to get the water main repaired and restore water service. Subway service was unaffected, buses were rerouted around the site of the break (Fifth Ave. and 44th St.). Crews went door to door to check on any basement flooding and handed out claim forms.”

According to DEP, water service has been restored to all homes and businesses by Monday morning.

“Water service was restored on a rolling basis overnight — the last 80 folks were turned back on this morning,” Timbers said in an update. “The broken section of main will be examined at a DEP facility to try to ascertain the cause of the break.”

During the break, which occurred near the neighborhood’s namesake park, FDNY told this paper that no injuries had been reported. Firefighter operations concluded at approximately 7:30 a.m., at which time the scene was turned over to DEP, according to FDNY.  

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca told this water that the city’s Department of Emergency Management and DEP had “provided bottled water to the impacted customers,” with the area Community Emergency Response Team helping out.

“Once the broken section of the main is opened and the cause of the break is determined, DEP will be able to provide an estimated timeframe to make all repairs,” added Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, who said that DEP personnel had shut off the flow of water “by utilizing a shut off valve that was submerged under water.”

Executive Director for the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) David Estrada told this paper about his concerns in the aftermath of the break.

“The trend is good but, just as we learned at 64th Street [where a giant sinkhole opened, closing the street for an extended period], the recovery process could take many months and the businesses could suffer,” he explained. “It’s dramatic when John Montone of 1010 Wins is standing on the corner and the commissioner is giving live PIX 11 video, but what happens three to four weeks from now when someone discovers a backflow inhibitor in their basement was damaged in this process but it wasn’t evident on the day of the event? There could be weeks or months of discovering what the effects of this are and who needs to file a claim with a comptroller. I’m concerned about the long-haul recovery.”

He also voiced worries about the park itself.

“’I’m also concerned about the historic stone embankment retaining wall for Sunset Park,” he said. “The tremendous pressure of the water flowing for many hours encroached to undermine the footing of the retaining walls for Sunset Park and those are historic. Already there was a capital project by the Parks Department to restore fences and walkways and benches and steps on that end of the park. Now, they have this added complication. OEM, DEP and DOT usually do those repairs. In addition, we have the Parks Department and the MTA involved because it’s the site of a bus stop and it’s damaging parks property.”

The water main that ruptured was over a century old, according to Community Board 7 Chairperson Cesar Zuniga. “We continue to survey the scene to figure out the extent of the damage and what it’s going to take to repair it.”

The aftermath may also affect nearby local businesses.

“One of the hardware stores had some pretty bad flooding,” Estrada said. “It was case by case. One basement was flooded badly and the next was okay. Some of these businesses have trouble with flooding and water intrusion even in a regular storm. With Key Food and the barber shop next door, I would like to see what their assessment is and if they lost inventory. Any place that’s a food establishment, even if the water is perfectly safe but rusty, it’s a matter of public perception. That’s a very delicate thing. It could be that the restaurants’ business is hurt, even if there is no real health concern.

“I’m concerned about these businesses long term,” Estrada added. “A lot of them make most of their profits for the year during the holiday shopping season. The margins for a small mom-and-pop shop have become smaller and smaller. This really affects people’s lives.”

As of noon Sunday, 20 businesses as well as 340 residences had been impacted, Melissa Del Valle Ortiz, a representative of Congressmember Nydia Velazquez.

The destruction caused by the water main break was visible for blocks.

“Debris from the Water Main Rupture at 5th Ave/44th St., earlier today, reached as far north as 39th St.,” wrote local group Friends of Sunset Park on Facebook. “Multiple stones, as large as 3” in diameter, + brick halves (3” X 4”) are among the debris. Thank goodness the rupture didn’t happen when our sidewalks + streets are crowded with pedestrians + vehicles.”

Locals lent a helping hand to those who had been affected. Cops at the 72nd Precinct, led by Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez, went door to door to make sure the residents of the area were okay.

New York City Emergency Management (NYCEM) Commissioner Deanne Criswell commended those who helped out.

“Thanks to our intrepid #NYCCERT members, coming out in today’s rain to distribute water to local residents affected by a water main break in Brooklyn,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Thank you Pastor Jonathan Bream, Maria Roca and the rest of #NYCCERT members. Sunset Park #Brooklyn is fortunate to have such a caring group of volunteers!” added the 72nd Precinct.

For a claim form for water damage, visit https://bit.ly/2XJYTYM.

To donate drinking water, bring bottles to Sixth Avenue and 44th Street near Sunset Park.

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