Businesses and schools shut down Thursday after a main line from a plant that supplies water to about half of Houston burst open, submerging vehicles on a flooded freeway and prompting emergency officials in the nation's fourth-largest city to deploy tanker trucks to mitigate any fire hazards.
"This was a major, a major break," Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a mid-afternoon news conference. "As you can see it produced a lot of water and it is still producing a lot of water."
Turner said the line had been isolated on both ends, but until it fully drains, it will continue to spew water, though at a diminishing rate. He said it's expected to take about six to eight hours for it to completely drain.
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Flash flooding from the water main break submerged vehicles on an eastern section of Loop 610, a highway that circles the city. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted early Thursday afternoon that all occupants were out of flooded vehicles.
There were no reports of injuries.
Drivers in the low-lying city are used to navigating flooded roadways during storms, but rising water on caught many by surprise on a sunny day.
"The water came out very, very quickly and didn't give people much of a notice," Turner said.
Officials said the break happened around noon as a contractor worked to repair a leak in the 8-foot line, which is 35 years old.
"The closer they got to where the leak was occurring, removing the soil, the line simply erupted," Turner said.
The fire department said on Twitter that it had rescued three people and searched and cleared 12 vehicles. Turner said they would be watching nearby homes and putting out sandbags to keep them from flooding.
Water pressure was expected to remain low in the affected areas for the next six to eight hours, Turner said at the mid-afternoon news conference. Officials urged residents to conserve water.
Restaurants without water must stop operating, Turner said. A boil water notice was issued Thursday evening for the city's entire fresh water system.
All of Harris County courts will be closed Friday because of the water main break. The Houston Independent School District canceled after-school activities Thursday and said schools would be closed Friday so maintenance workers could inspect its facilities to make sure they were properly functioning.
The low water pressure also caused a fire concern, and fire Chief Samuel Pena said tanker trucks would be deployed in the area.
Turner said the break was an example of the need for improvements in infrastructure, which has been a major focus since Hurricane Harvey waterlogged the city in 2017.
"When you are dealing with an aging infrastructure, you are going to have these main line breaks," Turner said. "And in some cases they are major arteries and can cause a major disruption."