Hole-y havoc in downtown core

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Street sink hole with exposed wires

Jon Purdy

"IT TOOK YEARS, BUT WE FINALLY FOUND FRAGGLE ROCK." There was significant road construction occurring at Wellington and Dundas streets yesterday after a water main collapse led to the downtown core losing power for several hours.

Halloween was spookier than usual this year in London, with the downtown core shrouded in darkness until late Wednesday night.

London’s city centre suffered an all-day power outage as a result of repairs to a broken water main at the intersection of Dundas and Wellington streets.

According to Nancy Hutton, the director of public relations and corporate communications for London Hydro, a 12-inch water main broke at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Originally city officials received a report of water spurting up through a manhole and suspecting a water main break, shut off the water to determine where the break occurred.

Once the pressure was removed under the road, the street collapsed at 5 a.m., opening a huge sinkhole 20-feet in diameter and 15-feet deep " approximately the size of a backyard swimming pool. There was extensive flooding as a result of the break.

“To make everything safe and secure, we had to disconnect power in the downtown area in order to make repairs,” Hutton explained.

The resulting blackout shut down many businesses in the core, including the City Centre, Galleria Mall and Hilton Hotel, as well as London Central Secondary School.

Power was fully restored to the area by 9:16 p.m., according to a City of London media release.

London’s Chamber of Commerce estimated businesses losses in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

London Transit Commission buses ran 15-20 minutes behind schedule since many routes use the affected area and traffic lights were out.

Pat McNally, director of Water Environment and Customer Relations for the City of London, noted there was significant damage to the electrical vault.

McNally said there will be a few more days of repairs. It remains to be seen whether power will need to be turned off again.

“People will probably become frustrated ... but we need a safe repair,” he added.

The president of the London Economic Development Corporation, Peter White, commended the city on its quick response.

“The communication was pretty good, people knew by 4:30 in the morning ... they were contacting businesses as soon as possible,” White said.

The Continuing Studies at Western centre, located in the Galleria Mall, was notified about the power outage at 6 a.m. by mall staff.

“[Classes] all had to be cancelled ... it was a bit of a challenge, but we’re back in business today,” Kim Miller, director of Continuing Studies, said.

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best said, “We were there within 14 minutes of the man hole actually bursting,” she said.

DeCicco-Best stressed the importance of federal and provincial government investment into infrastructure for municipalities.

“Cities on their own are not going to be able to find that kind of money to make up the gap,”

White agreed this is a challenge all municipalities across Canada and North America face, due to aging infrastructure.

“You’ve got to fix these problems, but you can only fix them at the rate you have resources,” DeCicco-Best concluded.

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