COUNCIL BLUFFS — Local grocery stores had to keep up with a sudden, overwhelming demand for bottled water Wednesday after a major water main break. Council Bluffs residents were advised to boil tap water for safety.
The “boil only” alert continues until at least noon today as Water Works crews repair the break at North Ninth Street and Avenue E.
The alert applies to all Water Works customers within the city and areas outside the city, such as Crescent, that are part of the Water Works system, said Public Health Director Donn Dierks.
An estimated 65,000 Water Works customers were affected.
People are advised to boil water for one minute after the water starts bubbling before using it, Dierks said. If at all possible, people should use bottled water, he added. People who need to bathe or shower should not ingest the tap water, Dierks said. Use hand sanitizer as an added precaution.
Dierks played down any major concern, adding, “We want to err on the side of safety.”
The 24-inch main broke around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. Water service was restored to most customers by 4 a.m.
Doug Drummey, director of the Council Bluffs Water Works, said the break created a “crater” at the intersection measuring an estimated 50 feet wide.
He said that between 2 million and 3 million gallons of water poured out of the system in a 60-minute period, leading to a loss of water pressure on the west side of the city.
Because of the drop in water pressure, Drummey said, it was possible that pathogens or disease-carrying organisms seeped into the water system. That's why the city told residents not to drink city water or to use it in food preparation unless it had first been boiled.
Drummey said water samples taken from the system were being tested at the Water Works' laboratory. The tests take 24 hours to complete.
The Hy-Vee Supermarket at 23rd Street and West Broadway and the Hy-Vee Drug Store at Eighth Street and West Broadway ran out of most of their bottled water by 9:30 a.m., but supply trucks with more water arrived within hours.
At the Hy-Vee Supermarket on Madison Avenue, staff removed produce from the shelves so it would not be sprayed by possibly contaminated water, said Lindsey Flanigan, manager of perishables. Staff disinfected the shelves and restocked them with new produce that then was hand-sprayed with bottled water during the day, Flanigan said.
At No-Frills and Super Saver, patrons could fill their own jugs from the stores' water machines for a small fee, store officials said. Bottled water was in limited supply, but both stores expected supply trucks during the day.
Council Bluffs restaurants also scrambled in response to the water main break.
Cracker Barrel at Lake Manawa opened at 6 a.m. but was empty at 7 a.m., when it closed for an hour.
“We didn't have anyone in here yet,” manager Scott Miller said with a chuckle. “That made it easier.”
Miller said he consulted with the city before reopening.
Staff threw out any food prepared before the warning and boiled water. They also ordered bottled water, ice and other products from area vendors.
Miller also ventured to nearby Walmart for bottled water and other supplies.
“What a three-ring circus over there,” he said of the mad rush for water.
Before Lansky's on North Broadway could open, staff had to boil lots of water. But that didn't stop the restaurant from opening on time at 11 a.m., manager Jennifer Kurcz said
The story was the same at Sam's Italian Villa on West Broadway and the Pizza Counter on East Broadway.
At Eddy's gas station, the soda fountain was out of order, but coffee was still served. Staff said its boiling mechanism gets water hot enough to be safe.
Downtown mainstays Duncan's Cafe and Main Street Cafe both closed. No one answered the phone at either location, and it was unclear if they would reopen today.
Local schools encouraged parents to send bottled water with students. Officials asked students to bring only water, not Gatorade or pop.
All the schools, however, will provide bottled water for their students and employees. Schools have purchased cases of bottled water from local businesses and received cases from patrons.
“We have enough water just from what the patrons brought this morning to make it through tomorrow, no problem,” Dave Black, school improvement specialist for the Lewis Central school district said Wednesday. “We had 300 cases of water as of this morning.”
Food service staffs were following precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including boiling water or using bottled water.
“Instead of serving fresh fruit or veggies that had to be washed, we just served canned fruit or bagged lettuce versus lettuce we'd have to wash,” said Diane Ostrowski, supervisor of community services for the Council Bluffs Community Schools.
At the Micah House family emergency shelter, staffers were grateful for a recent gift of bottled water. The Council Bluffs radio station 89.7 The River recently donated 75 cases to the shelter.
“Otherwise, we would have been in a difficult situation,” said Lisa Emken, public support director.