OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of residents of suburban Washington are avoiding running their faucets, watering their lawns and flushing toilets during a scorching heat wave because of urgent repairs to a failing water main.
More than 200,000 Prince George's County residents and businesses were warned Monday night about the unexpected repairs after one of the pipe's internal sensors sent signals that it needs to be fixed. The repairs should head off a potentially disastrous failure.
Mandatory water restrictions began late Tuesday in several communities in an area that includes the military base that is home to Air Force One and a major convention center. Officials had initially warned that faucets could run completely dry for several days but later said that they'd been able to divert water to the area to keep the pipes flowing.
The restrictions come at a particularly hot time, with temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s over the next few days. Residents have been told to limit use of dishwashers, washing machines and bathing.
Officials are providing water at three schools in affected areas and opening reception centers where people can shower, use the bathroom and get drinking water.
"If we continue to conserve we're confident that the system will remain full while we complete the repairs on the pipe and return it to service," said Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission General Manager Jerry N. Johnson on Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson said that a "major disaster" had been averted.
Still, the signs of water conservation were evident in the area. On Wednesday, businesses including car washes, daycare centers and fast-food restaurants were shut down before noon. At a Shoppers Food Warehouse just off the Capital Beltway in Oxon Hill, assistant store director Timothy Marshall was restocking shelves with hundreds of one-gallon jugs of Deer Park water.
"I've got plenty of water for all of Prince George's County," said Marshall, who said the early warning about the shutdown allowed the store to order more water than usual. "I hope I don't get stuck with it all. So far, so good."
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman I.J. Hudson said the 4-½-foot water main pipe that needs to be repaired was put in around 1965. Officials first got alerts Friday from a warning system that the pipe was failing. There were additional warnings over the weekend and Monday. County officials urged residents to stock up on water before the work began.
In response, Joint Base Andrews, which is home to Air Force One and has 16,000 residents and workers, shut down all but the most critical operations. A base clinic was accepting only emergency patients, and routine appointments had been cancelled. The base's commander, Col. William Knight, said Wednesday that movable water tanks had been placed around the base, but he said that air conditioning could be affected because that system needs water to work.
County officials worked to make the most of the advance warning before the massive outage, said county spokesman Scott Peterson. Fire officials were placing tankers in the affected area.
"One blessing is that usually there is a break, and you are dealing with the aftermath. This is a different situation," Peterson said. "Because of new technology we were able to get out with 24-hour notice, and people were able to prepare for this. As frustrating as the situation is, most of the time you don't even get 24 hours."
Associated Press reporters Sarah Brumfield and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.