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Originally published October 8, 2013 at 9:44 PM | Page modified October 9, 2013 at 6:29 AM

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Utilities scramble to fix water main near U-Village

A water main broke near Seattle’s University Village on Tuesday afternoon, temporarily flooding the surrounding area, closing nearby streets and causing fire alarms to sound because of falling water pressure.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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A major water-main break Tuesday afternoon sent a 12-foot-high geyser gushing underneath the Northeast 45th Street Viaduct, flooded a portion of University Village’s parking areas and sent city utility crews scrambling.

Emily Ryder was hanging Halloween decorations in the window of Paper Source, a University Village crafts store, when she noticed water running along the pavement outside.

When she took a break an hour later, at around 4 p.m., she said, a small river was covering the nearby parking lot.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) spokesman Andy Ryan said the 16-inch water main running along Northeast 45th Street broke and had to be shut off, leaving an unknown number of homes and businesses without water. It also prompted the closure of the viaduct for about two hours.

SPU crews expected to work overnight to fix the broken main, and repairs are expected to be complete by sometime Wednesday morning, Ryan said.

For a while, there was worry the rushing water might have damaged the viaduct’s support columns. But structural engineers with the Seattle Department of Transportation inspected the columns and determined there were no structural issues.

Northeast 45th Street, between Montlake Boulevard and 22nd Avenue Northeast, reopened at about 5 p.m.

Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said there was also concern about water damage to the electrical, security and fire-sprinkler systems at U-Village.

The water did not find its way into U-Village stores and restaurants, but brown water swirled through parking areas among dozens of cars.

Blue C Sushi, which sits on the corner closest to the flood, had few customers inside late in the afternoon. Employees said that’s typical; the main rush comes at dinner. As utility workers splashed through the nearby parking lot trying to drain the water, one of the sushi bar’s employees, Juan Jimenez, showed videos on his phone of the geyser launching water high into the air earlier in the day.

Workers pushed the water down drains with brooms and shoveled layers of mud off the pavement and into a Vactor truck, which removed the excess debris by means of a giant vacuum.

Juli Pridgeon, general manager of Banana Republic in University Village, said the flood made for a slow sales day in what has already been a slow six months, caused by construction nearby of a big new parking garage. Her store has lost power three times recently because of the construction, and the water shut off after Tuesday’s flood meant the sinks and toilets in the bathrooms weren’t working for hours.

She said the flooding drove away potential customers, knocking down the store’s sales for the day by a quarter, or an estimated $2,000.

“I’m just in here trying to sell pants,” she said, exasperated.

The sudden drop in water pressure on the University of Washington campus caused fire alarms to go off automatically in some buildings, prompting some students to evacuate, said UW spokesman Bob Roseth. However, buildings were not officially evacuated, he said.

Officials at U-Village declined to comment on the flooding, saying it was on city property.

Customers in areas near the water-main break might see brownish water coming from their taps and in their toilets. This is common when there is a sudden change in the flow of water in the pipeline, the utility said in a news release.

Discolored water comes from internal pipe rust and sediment getting stirred up. Such water is still safe, if unappealing. SPU recommended customers open their cold water taps for a few minutes. If that doesn’t clear the water, customers should wait an hour then run the cold water for a few more minutes and flush the toilet a couple of times, the utility said. Eventually, the water should clear.

Until that happens, SPU recommends against using hot water, so the hot-water tank isn’t filled with discolored water.

Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or ccampbell@seattletimes.com. On Twitter, @cmcampbell6

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