It was Tuesday evening at Newark’s 15-story New Community Associates apartment tower, more than 12 hours after a water main break a few miles away. And as the building’s elevator went up, tenants’ water pressure went down.
In a fourth-floor apartment, at about 7 p.m., the toilet flushed for the first time that day, and to the delight of the elderly woman who lives there, the kitchen faucet let loose a full stream of crystal clear water. But on the 14th floor, in 62-year-old Eugene Gray’s 1-bedroom unit, pulling the toilet chain got no response. When Gray tried to turn on the shower, nothing came out. And at the kitchen sink, where some dirty dishes had piled up, the faucet was also dry.
“You use the water you have,” said Gray, a retired Newark city parks maintenance man who tries to keep at least some bottled water in his apartment after the city’s recent lead contamination scare. “I brushed my teeth. I washed off my face. What else are you gonna do?”
Gray and other tenants at the 225-unit New Community apartment building for seniors and people with disabilities were among 100,000 Newark households whose water pressure was cut or reduced on Tuesday thanks to a water main break in Belleville.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and the city’s water and sewer director, Kareem Adeem, announced that 99 percent of the city’s water service had been restored. They predicted that full water pressure would be restored to all areas later in the evening.
“We have made outstanding progress on controlling this leak from the water main break from the beginning, and I thank our Water and Sewer Utilities team for their round-the-clock efforts to do so,” Baraka said in a statement. “I also want to thank all of our residents for their patience, the mayors of our neighboring communities, and local businesses who donated bottled water for those impacted while we’ve worked to restore water service.”
Adeem said the break was isolated and a car removed from a sinkhole that opened up on a street in Branch Brook Park. “I want to thank our Water and Sewer Utilities crews who have been working nonstop to seal this leak, our residents for their resilience, the Essex County and City of Newark OEM for their immediate and joint response, along with PVWC and Belleville DPW.”
The city advised residents of Newark’s North, South, West and Central wards to boil water for drinking or cooking if and when pressure returned. They said the advisory would remain in effect until residents were notified “that water quality is satisfactory.”
The Newark Board of Education once again canceled summer school classes on Wednesday.
Baraka local businesses had donated more than 8,400 cases of water and municipal workers went door-to-door on Tuesday and Wednesday distributing bottles in the affected areas.
It was just before 6 a.m. when city officials said a 42-inch transmission main carrying drinking water from Newark’s Pequannock Treatment Plant in West Milford ruptured beneath Branch Brook Park Drive in a northern section of the Essex County Park in neighboring Belleville.
Many of Belleville’s 38,000 residents suffered reduced water pressure, though none lost their water entirely, said Township Manager Anthony Iacono, who had gone to the scene of the break on Wednesday.
“The majority of the town is experiencing very low water pressure,” Iacono said.
Iacono said the scene remained largely unchanged Wednesday, with water gushing from the main, flooding a stretch of Branch Brook Park Drive near an unused railroad overpass and spilling into the Second River, a park waterway that runs parallel to the road.
Essex County Sheriff’s officers allowed NJ Advance Media to view and photograph the scene of the break from a short distance on Tuesday when the rupture opened up a sinkhole that nearly swallowed a vehicle that had been driving through the park on Tuesday morning. Officials said the driver escaped unharmed. However, sheriff’s officers did not permit access to the scene Wednesday.
An Essex County spokesman declined to comment on when Branch Brook Park Drive or the park entrance at Mt. Prospect Avenue and another park road, Mill Street, would be reopened.
Back at the New Community Associates apartment tower, residents who were gathered outside the building Tuesday evening described a miserable day of trying to wash and cook without running water and leaving their toilets unflushed.
The residents said Newark city employees had dropped off water on Tuesday morning around 9:30 or 10 a.m., though they were limited to two 16-ounce bottles each.
“Two bottles? What the Hell you gonna do with that?” Gray said.
Several residents said the discomforts of the water main break were compounded by longer-standing problems in the building operated by the non-profit Newark Community Corporation, which provides subsidized rental apartments for seniors and people with disabilities. Those problems include a faulty central air conditioning system that poorly ventilates and barely cools their apartments and an elevator that’s frequently out of service, stranding many elderly or disabled tenants, particularly those on upper floors.
Several residents said they heard nothing from the building’s management about the water situation.
“I had to find out when I lifted the lever on the sink, and nothing came out,” said Jacqueline Myles, 68, a retired cosmetologist who lives on the 14th floor. Reached at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Myles said, “As of now I still don’t have water.”
A spokesperson for New Community Corporation, Michelle Lang, said the central air conditioning system was a victim of the water situation. However, she did not provide details of just how.
“The issues caused by the water main break have affected the air conditioning at 180 South Orange Ave,” Lang said in an email Wednesday. “We have a professional on-site assessing the situation. We are not aware of any current issues with the elevator. However, we will follow up and make sure any problems are addressed.”
Nathaniel Lawrence, 65, a retired welder who lives on the 15th floor and uses a motorized wheelchair, said he had spent all day Tuesday outside out of fear that the elevator would break down and leave him stranded in a hot, dry apartment.
Lawrence said he spent part of the day riding his chair to a local discount store to buy water when his shopping cart malfunctioned on the way back.
“I rode down to the Dollar General, and I put the water in the cart, and the cart broke,” said Lawrence, a retired welder who has had four knee surgeries. “The cart broke, and there goes my water, rolling down the hill.”
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