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Fifth Avenue Shut Down as Repairs on Broken Water Main Continue

 Construction workers still hadn't accessed the broken water main on Thursday, though electricity and water had been restored to all affected customers.
West Village Water Main Break
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — The burst water main that flooded Greenwich Village on Wednesday will take at least several days to repair, as workers carefully excavate the broken section of pipe and remove it, officials said.

Gushing water from the main left a 10-foot hole in Fifth Avenue and 13th Street early Wednesday morning, and on Thursday workers enlarged that hole to dig out the nearly 140-year-old pipe, which is surrounded by other utilities.

"We're working around the clock as quickly as we can," said Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Jim Roberts, who predicted that repairing the main and the badly damaged intersection would take "the next several days."

As that work continued, officials said water was restored to all homes and businesses in the area by 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz said 84 customers had been without power, but service was restored as of Thursday morning.

Fifth Avenue remained closed Thursday between 12th and 14th streets.

After more than 24 hours of digging and debris removal, construction workers were finally able to see the broken water main on Thursday afternoon, but they still could not safely access it.

"We can see it, but there's not enough room to fix it," said a DEP supervisor who declined to give his name. "There are gas mains in our way, electric in our way."

Having to coordinate the various utilities slows down the repair process, Roberts said, because workers need to place support beams under all the other pipes and infrastructure as they dig. He said worker safety is a big concern.

Once they can finally access the pipe, it's a matter of "gingerly taking it out," Roberts said.

Roberts said the chief factor in the water main break was age: the main was built and installed in 1877.

The water from the broken main had flooded surrounding basements and subway lines, and several New School buildings in the area remained closed on Thursday. The school's admissions office, registrar and welcome center for new students, among other offices, were temporarily relocated to three different nearby buildings.

The administration warned of delays in processing applications because of the power outage but assured students and faculty in an email that the school, including the new University Center at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street, would be open in time for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 27.

Aaron Coleman, 80, who has lived just around the corner from the broken main on 12th Street for the past 40 years, marveled at the age of the pipe.

"It was built by Civil War veterans, can you imagine?" he said.

He recalled another burst water main a few weeks ago at 12th Street and Fifth Avenue, but said, "compared to this, that was a minor thing."

Roberts said the mains that broke were very different and "really unrelated."

"It was really a catastrophe yesterday," Coleman said.