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Associated Press, Published February 09 2013

Water line break floods downtown St. Paul streets

ST. PAUL — An underground water line ruptured early Saturday in downtown St. Paul, flooding several city blocks, causing a widespread drop in water pressure and prompting city officials to warn against drinking tap water.

Rick Larkin, the city's director of emergency management, said there was "significant street damage" after the 20-inch main broke about 12:30 a.m., sending thousands of gallons of water coursing through eight to 10 square blocks. The cause of the rupture wasn't immediately clear, Larkin said.

A few hours later, officials isolated the break and closed the valves to turn off that portion of the water supply. Full water pressure was restored to most of the grid, but Larkin said public works crews will have to dig up a large section of road to repair the broken part of the line.

A notice posted on the city's website later Saturday advised residents in the downtown, West 7th and lower west side to avoid drinking tap water Saturday until officials could confirm the water was still clean.

"'We will inform you when tests show no bacteria ... throughout the distribution system," said Steve Schneider, the general manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services. "We anticipate solving the problem within 24 hours."

The area where the leak occurred is full of apartment and office buildings. Larkin said there didn't appear to be much structural damage beyond the streets themselves.

"It's a hilly area of the city, so it all just ran down the hill," he said.

With water pressure dropping for much of the area overnight, some hospitals switched temporarily to reserve water supplies.

Officials closed several downtown streets after the break, but Larkin said crews were working to reopen many of them before dawn. Part of the work involved clearing away the ice from the ruptured line that had made it to street level.

"Once the street is cleaned up and the ice dealt with, it'll shrink back to a one-block area," Larkin said. "... It really becomes a construction project."

The flooding comes a month after a break in a 3-foot water main in downtown Minneapolis spilled millions of gallons of water and flooded streets. The rupture occurred after a contractor struck the pipe with a backhoe.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.