San Francisco water main break causes massive sinkhole, costly damage

An overnight water main break caused portions of Fillmore Street to cave in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023
SF water main break causes massive sinkhole, costly damage
Crews worked into the night in San Francisco to fix a water main break that happened late Sunday and led to a sinkhole Monday.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Crews worked into the night in San Francisco to fix a water main break that happened late Sunday and led to a sinkhole Monday.

The SFPUC says shortly before midnight on Sunday a 16-inch water main break was reported at Green and Fillmore Streets. The 16" water main was cast iron and installed in 1949.

"Water was kind of like a river gushing and you could see it was coming down the street," said Cyril Kollock.

"I'm in shock, we live down the street and didn't even know this was going on," said Clara Bltabsky who lives nearby.

"It does feel like the city is getting pretty old," said Maddie Standlee.

Officials say the water main break also affected a nearby 8-inch water main.

As of 9:40 p.m., the SFPUC tells us both the 16-inch and 8-inch water mains have been repaired.

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"Proactively the Public Utility commission assess prioritizes and repairs around 9 miles of pipelines a year but leaks still happen," said Joe Sweiss with the SFPUC.

Resident Amanda Scott was on Lombard street around midnight when she noticed sewage and mud flooding her street

"The entire street coming down on Steiner and Fillmore was basically a river. I'm not saying a river in terms of a light stream. I mean a river." she said.

Scott describes jumping into action to help save her neighborhood.

"I just took my shoes off, rolled up my pants and started digging through the sewers and taking all the debris and trying to put it all frankly on higher ground, if there was anything, Scott said.

She said she cleared seven drains.

Up the street, water rushed into multiple businesses on Fillmore Street. One of them was Wilder.

"It's utter chaos. The floor is caked in and then underneath that, a layer of water. Please watch your step as you come in," said Kingston Wu, Wilder's Managing Partner.

Wu walked us through where they believe the first wave of water came in.

"It actually entered through the back door of your business. That would be my guess and then as the water trickled down the stream, it probably came through the front door too," he said.

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Damages hard to quantify, but Wu's says it's in the thousand of dollars - a hard hit for a business that opened two years ago.

"Water kind of made its way throughout the floor board onto the walls into crevices. I was just talking to my contractor and one of the things we need to address is that mud likely went into out drains, and once it hardens, it can act as a cement block."

While there is a multi-billion dollar plan to improve infrastructure including replacing pipes in San Francisco, crews tell us the water main that broke was installed in 1949. Old but not nearly as old as some in San Francisco.

"San Francisco has pipes that are well over a hundred years old. Some of them are brick. This one was a cast iron," said Joseph Sweiss of the SFPUC.

Those at Michaelis Wine & Spirits say they could see the water on their surveillance video but were situated on higher ground. They say this is just the latest water main break in the area.

"But not as bad as this one this is probably the worst I've seen it. The most water I've seen going down and most damage," said Sandra Zeidan.

The SFPUC also advises people what to do if their water is milky or cloudy.

"If you notice that your water is milky, cloudy, and/or looks white this may indicate the presence of air bubbles in the water. In order to determine if this is due to air in the water, fill a clear glass with water and allow it to sit for a couple minutes. The air bubbles should rise to the top and the cloudiness will dissipate if there is simply air in the water. All water contains dissolved oxygen; however, changes in water temperature and pressure results in supersaturation or bubble formation. Check for persistent discoloration by opening the cold water tap closest to the water meter and let it run for 3-5 minutes to see if it clears up."

You can read more of SFPUC's more info here.

No injuries have been reported. The cause of the water main break is under investigation.

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