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Water main break forces repairs on U.S. Highway 78

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Crews work to repair a water main under U.S. Highway 78 near Loganville after the line broke at about 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Crews work to repair a water main under U.S. Highway 78 near Loganville after the line broke at about 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

LOGANVILLE — By noon, there was a crater where the southernmost lane of U.S. Highway 78 used to be. Directly across the closed, five-lane artery … another crater. Meanwhile, an adjacent trailer park was peeling away the muck.

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Water main break

Water main break

A vintage water main some four feet in diameter ruptured with enough force to lift the asphalt off Langley Road in Loganville about 2 a.m. Thursday, creating the type of rupture in Gwinnett’s underground web of water pipelines not seen in years, authorities said. The burst flooded a neighborhood, left hundreds without water, flummoxed morning commuters and caused water discoloration across the county.

By about 2 p.m., three lanes of U.S. Highway 78 — two eastbound for evening commuters, one westbound — were open. That setup will be reversed this morning for in-bound commuters if repairs haven’t wrapped, officials said.

The 48-inch, concrete pipe was installed in the 1970s and was pressurized to roughly 90 pounds of water per square inch. The largest line of its kind in southeast Gwinnett, it was protected by an 84-inch tunnel beneath the highway, said Lynn Smarr, Gwinnett’s Department of Water Resources acting director.

Why it ruptured will be investigated, but no construction projects — the usual culprits in gas and water line breaks — were ongoing in the area, officials said.

“There is going to be a very close investigation,” said Joe Sorenson, Gwinnett County spokesman.

The DWR stopped the leaking water by closing valves on either side of the road about 6:15 a.m., but not before a temporary river forced the evacuation of about 20 homes at Gwinnett Estates, a mobile home park.

Residents who had fled to higher ground were allowed to return by 7 a.m. No injuries were reported. All lanes of the highway were shut down for more than 10 hours.

Residents reported water 18 inches deep in the trailer park. The torrent filled the community swimming pool with murky brown water and stripped the playground of freshly laid mulch, said Jim Hollandsworth, director of the Hope Center, a learning center for neighborhood kids.

“We actually did some work on (the playground) and now we’ll have to redo it,” Hollandsworth said.

The water awoke resident Rafael Guzman, who lives near the entrance with his wife and three kids and whose modest home took the brunt of the surge. Like other homes, his bore some bent skirting but little other damage, he said.

“It was scary, above the water,” Guzman said from his front deck.

Sorenson said in addition to the trailer park 40 to 45 homes in nearby subdivisions lost water. Projected costs of the fix were unknown Thursday, he said.

The system’s water remained safe to drink without boiling, despite discoloration caused by sediment entering the system during a period of low pressure, he said.

“It will be cleared up soon,” Sorenson said Thursday.

— Staff Writer Camie Young contributed to this report