Broken water main swamps West Portal neighborhood and caves in street 

The cause of a water main rupture on 15th Avenue that inundated 23 homes is under investigation. The 61-year-old pipe gave way around 3 a.m. Wednesday. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • The cause of a water main rupture on 15th Avenue that inundated 23 homes is under investigation. The 61-year-old pipe gave way around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Jason Wu woke early Wednesday morning to the sound of several car alarms ringing in his West Portal neighborhood. Then police lights filled his bedroom window. When he went downstairs to see what the commotion was about, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“Water was just rushing in through the front door,” he said. “We tried to use soil to make it stop, but there was no use.”

Wu, who lives at the corner of 15th Avenue and Wawona Street, was one of the 23 neighborhood residents whose homes were damaged when a 61-year-old pipe just up the street burst around 3 a.m. — sending a river of water and dirt rushing down the slight hillside.

The 16-inch cast-iron pipe carries water from the Sutro Reservoir to the Excelsior district. It damaged 12 cars as well. Only one home temporarily lost water service.

Wu and his wife had just moved into their home two weeks ago after remodeling the bottom floor. All of that work was destroyed.

“The family room, the guest bedroom, the foyer, the laundry room,” he said. “All sorts of space damaged. The water was knee-deep.”

According to Betsy Rhodes, a spokeswoman with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, at least six of the affected homes were yellow-tagged, meaning city building inspectors will come out to check the structures’ foundations.

Residents were not displaced by the incident, but there was a lot of inconvenience. Marina Simonian, 71, had cleaners from The City as well as her insurance company at her home on 15th Avenue removing mud and debris from her garage and guest bedroom on the lower floor, which she also recently remodeled.

Simonian said she was alerted to the flooding by a neighbor pounding on her door.

“You could hear the water. it was so loud,” she said. “Water was just everywhere.”

There was so much water in Simonian’s garage that the refrigerator and freezer she stored there were floating upside down, she said.

A sinkhole that caved in more than half the street closed the residential road for much of the day Wednesday as crews worked to remove the ruptured pipe and shore up the unstable ground.

Two houses down from the sinkhole, Will Wu, no relation to Jason, said he too had heard the sound of car alarms. But he didn’t check on the cause until the Fire Department knocked on his door.

“We’re usually asleep at 3 a.m.,” he said. “We couldn’t imagine what was happening.”

Wu and his mother helped crews clean the lower half of their house of mud and debris most of Wednesday afternoon.

City officials, including building inspectors and the City Attorney’s Office, had already begun talking to residents to assist with cleanup by Wednesday afternoon.

The cause of the rupture is still under investigation.

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