A 66-inch water main broke in Bethesda today due to several days of sub-freezing weather. The flow of the water was so powerful and so sudden, that it trapped several cars on River Road and the drivers had to be rescued by helicopter. The water company took several hours to determine which valves to turn off to control the flood, but we will be living with the consequences of this rupture for many days. The strong water flow undermined a portion of the road and it will take several days to repair it. There will be terrible traffic jams because River Road is a major commuting artery from Potomac, MD to Washington, D.C.
The water main break happened early in the morning, and many people woke up to find that they could not brush their teeth or take a shower. Shoppers rushed to the grocery stores to stock up on drinking water. Partial water service was restored by noon to some neighborhoods, but the pressure was too low to get to the top of high-rise buildings. On the 19th floor of my building there is no water. The breakfast dishes are piled in the sink. County regulations require office buildings to close when there is no water due to concerns about sanitation. The Bethesda Post Office was closed and the bank across the street was closed. You cannot mail Christmas gifts, and you cannot do banking transactions unless you travel several miles to Rockville, Md. which is unaffected by the water main break.
Incidents like this make you think about strategies for surviving natural disasters. In this modern age, we depend on an infrastructure of utilities that bring water, electricity, and communications to our home. Water is the most important for survival, but electricity is a basic necessity that powers elevators, heating fans, telephones, and computers. It would probably be impractical or impossible to live in a high-rise building without electricity.