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Lee Meets With San Francisco Residents Devastated By Water Main Break

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Cars and homes were flooded by a water main break in San Francisco.  (CBS)

Cars and homes were flooded by a water main break in San Francisco. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — After a water main break ravaged a section of San Francisco’s Inner Parkside neighborhood last week, residents continue to deal with the aftermath, including sinkholes caving in under their homes.

At least four homes have been red-tagged, while at least two others have been yellow-tagged in the 2600 block of 15th Avenue and on the 400 block of Wawona Street after the water main break the morning of Feb. 27.

A 16-inch cast-iron pipe ruptured shortly after 2:30 a.m. on 15th Avenue just south of Wawona Street, sending water and mud down the hill and damaging 23 homes and 12 vehicles, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

One resident in a red-tagged home, who declined to give his name, was loading out furniture and belongings late Wednesday morning to move into a temporary home.

He said he and his wife and three children are not able to live in the home that he bought 13 years ago, but said he’s thankful to not be homeless.

He anticipates his family will be displaced for at least a year after city officials told him underground survey work and repairs are expected for at least the next six months.

His home was one of the homes that was declared uninhabitable because of concerns about the stability of the foundation.

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The massive flood of water opened up a large sinkhole in the street, which has since been repaired, according to SFPUC officials.

However, weakened soil conditions along the street have led to other sinkhole formations, many under people’s homes, according to Steve Richie, head of the city water department.

A woman and her husband were working with repair crews late Wednesday morning at their yellow-tagged home on 15th Avenue.

She said she cannot go into parts of her home, such as the basement.

She said the lower levels of her house were destroyed, and a furnace damaged.

After the deluge of water, she said mud covered the basement and garage, and was now caked onto surfaces.

She described conditions as a “mess” and said she has been working with repair crews and city officials nonstop since last week.

Audrey Moreno was working in her garage next to a yellow-tagged home late Wednesday morning, going through items that were damaged after two-and-a-half feet of water covered the floor of her home.

She was brought to tears discussing photographs, old vinyl records, holiday decorations and family heirlooms that were destroyed when her garage and basement were flooded.

She and her husband Ray Moreno have lived at the home since 1985, and had recently refinished the basement for what she described as her husband’s “man cave.”

Walking through the now-cleared out basement, she pointed to damaged sections of the wall and floor, and looked out at her muddied backyard.

She said the flood of water sent couches and ottomans floating, and scared her pet cat.

In the garage she had kept her belongings—such as old T-shirts from Jefferson Airplane concerts, a stamp collection from her parents and Halloween decorations—in plastic bins that ended up bobbing in the flood of water.

In the past week she has been drying out as much of the memorabilia as possible, but has conceded a majority of items are ruined.

She said her insurance company has left her and husband angry. “They said it was the city’s issue not theirs,” she said.

At a meeting with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly and other heads of city agencies, concerns from affected residents were heard Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to a crowd at the Orexi restaurant at 243 W. Portal Ave., Lee told about a 20 homeowners “I wish it didn’t happen…but as mayor I’m supposed to be here for you.”

Lee assured homeowners there would be an organized effort on behalf of the city to keep residents informed and armed with resources.

He pledged to meet with any insurance companies being uncooperative in handling the aftermath of the disaster.

He advised that many residents will not be able to return home anytime soon, and that the entire neighborhood will need to be patient with repair work.

“It will take a little time, I need you to be prepared. You’re not going to be moving in next week,” he said.

Geotechnical engineer Frank Rollo explained the timeline for assessment and construction work connected to the main break and subsequent sinkholes.

He said crews will be drilling anywhere from 30 to 60 feet into the foundations of 16 homes and parts of the street to test soil density and stability starting March 19.

Rollo said it is expected to take about a month to evaluate the soil, before city agencies can determine what type of construction and repairs are needed.

“Realistically there will be no conclusions until the middle of April,” he said.

He said repairs to water and sewer lines cannot be made for at least another three months as the soil hardens and dries.

Supervisor Norman Yee, whose District 7 encompasses the Inner Parkside neighborhood, assured residents he was working to ensure everyone was reimbursed for costly repairs.

“I have been able to hear your frustrations,” he said.

Lee said police will patrol the neighborhood to ensure the many unoccupied homes are protected.

“I’m not going to let you be double victims here,” Lee said.

A resource contact list was distributed to residents at the meeting, which included a list of work the city will be performing in the coming months, such as driveway repairs, water and sewer line repairs, and mold and air quality inspections.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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