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River North Water Tower Unleashes 'Terrifying' Downpour

By  Quinn Ford and Alex Parker  | February 21, 2014 3:39pm | Updated on February 21, 2014 4:47pm

River North Water Tower Unleashes 'Torrential Downpour'
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Angela Heuer

RIVER NORTH — Several River North office buildings were evacuated after a water tower began leaking and unleashed a "torrential downpour" on the building it sits atop Friday afternoon.

The water tower, located atop 409 W. Huron St., started spewing water around 1:30 p.m., said Ilene Auerbach, who works at Hobart Core, a marketing agency, located across the alley from the building.

She said a "torrential downpour" of water lasted five to 10 minutes, she said, causing firefighters to evacuate workers.

"We told everybody to grab their stuff and get out of the building," she said. "They told us to move away from the power lines."

Emergency crews responded to a call of a water tower "leaning and leaking" about 1:45 p.m., said Officer Daniel O'Brien, a police spokesman. Adjacent buildings were evacuated and traffic was redirected as a safety precaution, he said.

 Dozens of office workers were evacuated when a water tower leaked its entire contents in River North.
River North Water Tower Unleashes 'Torrential Downpour'
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"I heard a cascading of water that sounded menacing, to be sure," said Angela Heuer, who works at communications firm Serafin & Associates, which occupies the top floor of 409 W. Huron.

"It was terrifying," she said. "It was unlike anything I've ever seen before."

As water poured down the side of the building and into the sixth-floor office, Heuer and several employees "made a run for it," taking the stairs to the ground level, where she said as many as 60 other employees the building watched the emergency response.

"We are a communications and crisis firm, so I'd say we maybe are a little more prepared for an emergency response," she said. "But we were terrified because we weren't sure if the water tower would come down at any moment."

Firefighters blocked off surrounding streets around the building and continue to monitor the scene. The building's employees were not allowed back in their offices late Friday afternoon.

The building failed its annual inspection on Dec. 31, said Mimi Simon, spokeswoman for the city's Buildings Department.

It "was cited for several building code violations, including failing to maintain the structure, including the water tower, in a safe and stable condition," she said. The building's owner must submit a structural engineer's report and make the necessary repairs, she said.

City records show the building was also cited for violations related to the water tower in 2010. Records show those violations were never remedied.

Simon said the city is seeking "legal remedies," and will expedite the building owner's court date.

In July, a water tower fell from a Lakeview building, injuring three people. They filed suit against the building's owner.