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As Leak Persists, A Run On Bottled Water

Enelcy Scott, left, and Diana Cardona load bottled water into their car outside a supermarket in Chelsea on Sunday. (AP)
Enelcy Scott, left, and Diana Cardona load bottled water into their car outside a supermarket in Chelsea on Sunday. (AP)

BOSTON — Residents in Boston and almost 30 surrounding communities inside Route 128 remained under a boil-water order Sunday, as crews worked vigorously to repair a catastrophic break in a 10-foot wide steel pipe that feeds water from the Quabbin Reservoir in Central Massachusetts to the Boston area.

Less than a day before, 2 million residents in Greater Boston had started to learn from phone calls, emails and television that the water coming out of their facets wasn’t safe to drink.

Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency and said that all affected residents must boil their water vigorously for one minute before using to drink, wash hands or brush teeth.

Mike Sullivan was lucky to get the last few bottles of water at a Boston drug store. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)
Mike Sullivan was lucky to get the last few bottles of water at a Boston drug store. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

"For those who prefer to use bottled water, we’ve contacted the large market chains and asked them to keep up with what we anticipate to be increased demand," Patrick said. "If necessary, we will make emergency drinking supplies available to affected communities through the National Guard."

The panic started immediately. People rushed to the stores and bought as much water as they could. Within hours, most places were cleaned out of bottled water — from Boston to Newton, and Reading to Quincy.

Joanne Felton stood outside a Stop and Shop and a Walgreens in Boston, just after grabbing the last few gallons she could find.

She says her son, who works in a water distribution facility in California, told her to buy bottled water rather than boiling it. "And I have a 94-year-old mother," Felton added. "If she got something from drinking the water, you know I don’t want to take a chance."

Most people buying water didn't know all the details about the problem, including Francella Lord from Boston.

"I was shopping and someone came and told me you have to boil water, something broke and bacteria in the water," Felton said. "You don't know what's going on, all I heard is something broke.

Customers rapidly drained area grocery and convenience stores of bottled water supplies. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)
Customers rapidly drained area grocery and convenience stores of bottled water supplies. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

But, like Felton, Lord wasn't sure if boiling would be enough.

"I don’t know if its that safe. No trust, no trust in the government that’s what I’m hearing."

In the same store, one man bought sparkling water for brushing his teeth.

Ann Fisher came too late. "There’s Fiji water, but its $7 for 6 bottles of it so we got it for the cats," Felton said, laughing.

Felton won't be drinking the expensive water herself. "We’ll probably get Gatorade or something like that," she said.

Officials say tap water in the affected communities is safe to drink after bringing it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. Many grocery stores have put in emergency orders for more water to be delivered Sunday.

This program aired on May 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Monica Brady-Myerov Twitter Reporter
Monica Brady-Myerov was formerly a report in WBUR's newsroom.

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