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A broken water pipe has caused a cascade of problems throughout Houston, starting with the flooding of East Loop 610 late Thursday morning and the forced closure of schools, city and social services and restaurants.
The loss of water pressure through central and east Houston was attributed to a broken, underground 96-inch pipe break near Pennsylvania and Clinton designed to ferry drinking water. It burst when a city contractor “doing exploratory work” began removing soil from the line, according to Houston Public Works officials.
Water pressure is expected to remain low throughout a large portion of the city until about 11 p.m. , according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. Repair work is expected to begin once the water line, which has been sealed off, has drained. That repair work should take about 24 hours, lasting until Friday afternoon.
Health officials are also asking people to conserve and boil water for the next 24 hours. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires a boil water notice when water pressure drops below a certain threshold, because of the increased risk of bacteria in the water, according to Houston Public Health spokeswoman Alanna Reed.
No homes have been flooded, although street flooding has been reported in the Pleasantville neighborhood around the break, Turner said. No injuries have been reported.
Public Works Deputy Director Jeffrey Weatherford said the water was coming from a plant that serves close to 50 percent of the city, mostly inside Beltway 8, he said.
Officials have also closed down 610 East until further notice. Drivers are being advised to find alternate routes to their destinations.
Erin Jones, spokeswoman for Houston Public Works, said laundry, showers and other uses of water in east Houston should be avoided for the time being.
Public health officials have since ordered restaurants without water to close until further notice.
The Houston Health Department is also working with hospitals in the Medical Center.
University of Houston officials warned students and faculty that their on-campus water pressure was being impacted by the broken pipe. Officials said via Twitter the campus will be closed for the remainder of the day.
Texas Southern University officials said via Twitter the campus will be closed for the rest of the day Thursday as well.
Later Thursday, Houston Community College said several campuses were without water, forcing their closure.
Houston ISD was also reporting water issues at some of their schools, including campuses as far west as Lamar High School, with parents being told bottled water would be provided to students. In a statement, the district said after-school activities would be canceled. Later Thursday, the district reported that all schools will be closed on Friday with the make-up day set for June 1.
A handful of voting locations were closed and all Harris County courts will be closed Friday, including jury duty and criminal courts.
Water from the burst pipe sent a deluge of water spilling onto the nearby highway, with Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeting that stranded motorists were seeking dry refuge on the roof of their cars.
Three people have since been rescued, and 12 vehicles moved away from the rising water, according to fire officials.
The floodwater, meanwhile, is flowing toward the Ship Channel Bridge, the sheriff said.
“This is a cluster, but we will get it worked out,” Gonzalez said, showing pictures of muddied water pouring into the roadway.