A vehicle ended up in a sinkhole early Friday morning after a water main break flooded Schoenbar Road. (Photo courtesy Joe Piston)

A vehicle fell into a hole in the road early Friday morning after a water main on Ketchikan’s Schoenbar Avenue broke sometime early Friday, flooding the street with thousands of gallons of water.

The road was closed to through traffic as city crews worked to repair the pipe. Residents also were asked to conserve water, because that is the primary pipes for the city’s water supply.

City of Ketchikan Police Lieutenant Andy Berntson said the police department received numerous 911 calls around 5 a.m. about the flooding. He said when officers arrived, the road was completely covered in water, and the pipe was spurting water up through the broken roadway.

“A vehicle was probably about 2/3 submerged from the front end down into the sinkhole that had been created by the water main,” he said. “Officers had to force their way into the vehicle to remove the driver, who was stuck.”

Berntson said the driver was the only occupant, and was OK. He said it wasn’t clear how the accident happened.

“We don’t have the full story about what her – how she ended up in the hole,” he said.

At the time, though, water was completely covering the road and the sinkhole wasn’t clearly visible.

“When our guys got there, it was ongoing so the water was rising. It was covering the hole,” he said. “And our guys as they were approaching kept falling in sinkholes that they couldn’t see because there was so much water in the road.”

City Water Division Manager John Kleinegger said the vehicle was moved so that work crews could start digging to expose the pipe. The main that broke is the same one that leaked on June 23rd, but this was a much larger break.

“This was a massive release of water in the region of say 14,000 gallons per minute,” he said.  

KPU Water Division work crews fix a broken water main on Schoenbar Road. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

With that water main off-line, the city was relying on reservoirs for its potable water supply, which is limited.

Mid-morning on Friday, Kleinegger said the Bear Valley Reservoir was about half empty. The Jefferson Street Reservoir provides some backup, but the city was asking people to conserve water use.

“The community, particularly now that this is the fish processing season, uses quite a bit of water,” he said. “But we’ve contacted each of the processors and they’ve agreed to help us as much as they possibly can.”

Kleinegger said Ketchikan water customers use about 3- to 3.5-million gallons daily this time of year.

At the site, water man Gary Garrison said the water main had corroded, and a large break developed on the bottom of the approximately 30-year-old pipe. They took that section of ductile iron pipe out, and put in a patch of stainless steel.

The section of old water main had corroded, and the bottom split open. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

At about 2 p.m., Water Division Foreman David Johnston said the reservoirs had gotten below what could be read.

“The reservoir can only read to around 24 feet in height because there’s tubing going up that high,” he said. “So once it drops below the tubing, it just reads that because that’s what’s in the tubing. So right now, we’re flying blind.”

Johnston said that water main has had multiple smaller leaks in the same block. He said there have been discussions about replacing that pipe.

“I’m assuming it’s going to go a little higher up on priority, but that would be people above me,” he said.

At around 3 p.m. Friday, the pipe was temporarily fixed and the community’s water division was starting to refill the reservoir. Some replacement parts for a permanent fix are on their way from Seattle.