HOUSTON (CN) — Houston courts canceled their Friday dockets, schools are closed and the city is under a boil-water notice after an 8-foot water main burst Thursday and firefighters sent boats to rescue drivers stranded on a flooded freeway.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said a contractor’s crew was moving soil to repair a leak in the 35-year-old pipe connected to a plant that supplies water to about half the city’s 2.3 million residents when the pipe erupted around noon Thursday.
The gusher closed a section of Interstate 610, which circles central Houston, and firefighters in boats and high-water vehicles rescued three drivers and checked 12 more cars abandoned in the muddy water that engulfed vehicles up to their windshields.
No injuries were reported.
Turner said city workers put sandbags around homes to prevent flooding.
Flooding is a fact of life in the city that sits 50 to 150 feet above sea level on a coastal plain, and is regularly swamped by hurricanes and tropical storms, but the incident caught people off guard with the sun shining Thursday.
Ten school districts and the University of Houston canceled Friday classes, and the Houston Health Department ordered restaurants without water or flushing toilets to close Thursday afternoon.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said to conserve water pressure at its downtown jail it had suspended showering and laundry service and was serving meals on disposable trays to avoid washing dishes.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a boil-water notice because the water pressure dropped below its required minimum of 20 PSI, warning people to boil water for at least two minutes before using it.
Officials said it’s OK to wash one’s hands with tap water but not to brush one’s teeth with it.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo started Thursday with its annual three-day Championship Bar-B-Q Contest at NRG Park, which houses the Astrodome and the Houston Texans’ home field NRG Stadium.
Rodeo officials assured the thousands of people who went Thursday night that the 250 barbecue teams competing had potable water and that hand sanitizers had been set up in the parking lot where the event is being held, as the smells of smoking meat waft out from chimneys attached to huge custom-made barbecue pits.
Houston grocery stores are restocking bottled water after a nighttime rush drained their supplies.
The bare shelves didn’t upset Thomas DiSalvio who was shopping Thursday.
“They’re out of water. So, I’m drinking beer!” he told KPRC-TV.
Mayor Turner asked Houstonians to be patient until the boil-water notice is lifted.
“We are working with TCEQ to approve a sampling plan to stop boiling water. The repairs on the 96-inch line is continuing,” he tweeted early Friday morning.