Atlanta mayor declares state of emergency following water main breaks, hospital that moved patients resumes normal operations

Mike Stewart/AP via CNN Newsource

By Amanda Musa, Rebekah Riess, Ashley R. Williams, Sara Smart, Raja Razek and Jamiel Lynch

(CNN) — Atlanta’s mayor has declared a state of emergency following a massive water main break that left parts of the city’s downtown district without water and prompted a major hospital to transfer patients elsewhere.

The significant disruption to water service in Georgia’s capital is the latest dramatic example of how aging infrastructure throughout the United States has impacted electrical grids, bridges and roadways, dams and other vital systems, inconveniencing millions of Americans or placing them in danger.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens on Saturday declared a state of emergency just a few hours after crews repaired one of two major water main breaks in the city’s downtown area. The other, in the Midtown neighborhood, is still undergoing services with no estimate on when it will be repaired.

Repair crews have made “significant progress in localizing the repairs” as they continue to address the broken water main at the intersection of West Peachtree Street and 11th Street in Midtown, Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management said early Sunday.

Video from CNN affiliate WANF showed water gushing from a pipe onto a blocked-off portion of West Peachtree Street as crews worked to address it.

Atlanta Watershed reported another possible water main break in the city earlier Sunday and announced emergency repairs on a 6-inch water main near the Candler Park neighborhood were complete by late Sunday afternoon. Water service was restored to 35 nearby homes and four hydrants, the city agency said.

The issues began Friday after breaks on a 48-inch and 36-inch transmission line “that carries large volumes of water to the metropolitan area,” according to Atlanta Watershed.

The water main breaks left parts of downtown Atlanta without water and under boil water advisories, shuttering tourist attractions and forcing events to be postponed.

After repairs to the initial water main break downtown were completed, crews fully restored water service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Fulton County Jail, Atlanta City Detention Center and other facilities, the city agency said.

On Sunday, the city distributed water at two city fire stations, limiting cases to one per resident amid ongoing water issues. “We are currently working on getting more water delivered to all stations,” the City of Atlanta said in a post on X.

Meanwhile, the city’s Emory University Hospital Midtown and its ambulances resumed normal operations Sunday after the hospital experienced water pressure issues due to the water main breaks on Saturday, according to Janet Christenbury, director of media relations.

The disruptions prompted the hospital on Saturday to transfer dialysis patients to other hospitals and divert ambulances from its emergency department, except for people with urgent heart concerns, a hospital spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

“Tomorrow, we will operate on regular schedules for outpatient doctor’s appointments, procedures and surgeries,” Christenbury said in a statement.

The hospital said it brought in around 58,000 gallons of water in six tanker trucks to use in chillers and cooling towers on Saturday and distributed bottled water to patients for drinking and personal care needs.

“We will continue to provide bottled water to patients, visitors and staff while the hospital remains under a boil water advisory, like many of the affected areas in Atlanta,” Christenbury said.

Urgent surgeries were not affected on Saturday, the hospital said.

Boil water advisory in still effect

Dickens apologized on Saturday for the city’s response to the water main break that began creating concerns Friday morning.

“I know it has been a tough and frustrating day for many of you,” Dickens said. “We all take this matter very seriously.”

The issues prompted the closure of tourist attractions and the rescheduling of events including Megan Thee Stallion concerts Friday and Saturday. The incident also left many without water or with inadequate water pressure.

The Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola, two of downtown’s biggest attractions, remained closed Saturday.

Atlanta United, the city’s soccer team, said it planned to play its match against Charlotte FC on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but there would be “limited food and beverage options” due to the city’s boil water advisory, which remained in effect.

“We ask all fans to utilize hand sanitizing stations around the stadium as an added precaution for health and safety,” the team said in a statement on X.

Officials say a decaying pipe that collapsed due to water pressure was the main cause of the break downtown.

“We were actually able to repair the fitting that was leaking,” said Al Wiggins Jr., Commissioner for the Department of Public Works, during a news conference on Saturday.

“We spent a significant amount of time removing pressure from the system in order for us to be able to conduct the necessary repairs,” he said.

Crews are slowly pressurizing water flow to ensure no additional damage is done to the water network.

Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, which reported low water pressure on Saturday, is expected to return to normal operations Monday after water service was restored and water pressure has “significantly increased,” Grady’s administration announced Sunday.

The hospital, which said it remained fully operational on Saturday, said it would also continue providing patients and staff with bottled water Sunday amid the ongoing boil water advisory.

Water issues have impacted Atlanta before. In June 2020, a water main break on the Georgia Institute of Technology’s campus led to outages and a boil water advisory in the city.

Emory University Hospital Midtown used bottled water then. Patient care was not affected.

Atlanta’s woes are part of a larger issue of aging infrastructure throughout the US. Here and in Canada, around 260,000 water main breaks cost $2.6 billion each year, according to a December 2023 study from Utah State University.

The study noted the average age of failing water mains is around 53 years and that 33% of US and Canadian water mains are over 50 years old.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.

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