When Hughes O’Winter got a call on Sunday that his duplex on Perry Street in Berkeley had flooded, he went to Walmart and bought a pair of rainboots, hoping to check out the damage.
He quickly learned they wouldn’t be enough. A water main break had submerged his and dozens of surrounding homes along Perry Street in three feet of water.
O’Winter, who rents the unit to a tenant, waded through waist-deep water to get to his front door. His tenant escaped without injuries, he said, and neither O’Winter nor his neighbors experienced any injuries.
By Monday morning, the water had receded, leaving a muddy, soggy mess in its wake.
“It smells pretty dank,” O’Winter said, walking over a patch of soaking wet carpet inside his duplex. “It’s uninhabitable.”
Residents are now assessing the damage from one of the largest water infrastructure malfunctions the city has experienced in recent memory. Denver Water said it’s working on restoring service to at least 47 homes in the neighborhood, and staff are investigating what led to the break.
“Crews have been on scene around the clock,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for the utility. “They’re currently repairing the break and putting a new pipe in that will lead to getting the problem resolved.”
Traffic remains shut down from West 45th Avenue to West 46th Avenue, and North Perry Street to Raleigh Street, because water literally washed away part of the street. A gaping hole remains where the break happened.
Water service should be restored to the neighborhood by late Monday or early Tuesday, Hartman said. Road repairs will take several weeks.
Service has been restored to Regis University, which briefly shut off water during the break.
It’s hard to know what exactly led to the underground rupture. Causes could include everything from seasonal temperature changes to aging pipe infrastructure to corrosive soil, Hartman said. This particular pipe was over 100 years old.
By late Monday morning, some residents along Perry Street were digging their cars out from the muck.
Grass laid flat in some lawns where water had flowed through, and many homes had a three-foot high water stain around their exterior.
Denver Water plans to pay for the cost of repairing homes on a case-by-case basis, Hartman said. Crews from a private contractor spent most of Monday morning going door to door to assess damages.
“We’ll repair the damage from this,” Hartman said. “That obviously takes more than a couple days, but we’re well on our way.”
O’Winter’s duplex still had a pool of standing water in the crawl space, which he hoped to get out with a sump-pump by the end of the day. He estimates the repairs will cost tens of thousands of dollars and take months to complete.
He’s owned the home since 2009 and has never seen this kind of incident in Denver. He planned to tell his tenant that they would likely have to move out and find a new place to live, at least temporarily.
“I worry for them because the housing market is already tight,” he said. “So adding potentially 50 or more people to that is only going to make it worse.”
Residents affected by the water main break can visit Denver Water’s website for more resources and updates about recovery.