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Atlanta’s water problems extend into a fourth day as the city finally cuts off leakage into the streets

ATLANTA (AP) — For at least some residents, Atlanta’s water problems weren’t over Monday.

Milena Franco, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, said she and her husband had water all weekend. But the power was shut off Monday morning, as Franco discovered when she tried to shower.

“I got in the shower and cried for a while,” Franco said.

City officials said the water supply in the immediate area was shut off as part of an effort to stop the flow of a broken water main that had been flowing into the streets since Friday evening.

The geyser finally dried up around sunrise on Monday, after officials brought parts from Alabama under a police escort. But much of the city remained under orders to boil water before drinking it, even in areas where pressure was restored after a first massive leak was fixed on Saturday. The days of outages left some residents frustrated with the pace of repairs, saying the city is still not providing proper information.

“We are focused on this issue and my administration understands how critical water is to our lifeline in this city,” Dickens told reporters at the site of the water main break on Monday.

But his press conference ended before reporters could ask all their questions, as resident Rhett Scircle asked the questions residents in nearby buildings wanted to know.

‘When will the water come back on? Is there an estimated timeline? We live here!” Scircle yelled at Al Wiggins Jr., commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management.

However, Wiggins refused to estimate when water would flow again, even as excavators continued to dig into a hole behind him.

The outage did not affect the entire city of 500,000 inhabitants; many areas on the north and south sides of Atlanta never lost water pressure or experienced boiling problems. But for thousands of residents, the problems started Friday when an intersection of three water pipes west of downtown caused a massive leak. Wiggins said the leak was caused by corrosion and was difficult to repair because the three pipes created a limited working space.

The Midtown leak started hours later. Wiggins said city workers are still unsure why it happened, but that it was difficult to repair because it happened at an intersection of two major water pipes, and the valve to turn them off was inaccessible because of the flowing fluid. Instead, the city dug holes in four directions a block away to cut off power to the Midtown spill, though Scircle and some other residents said they saw little work for most of Saturday and Sunday.

Water pressure began to be restored early Sunday for many, and a number of major events took place in the city center on Sunday, including a concert and an Atlanta United soccer match.

But for the other residents it was a tough weekend. Workers at a bar next to the Midtown spill began cleaning up Monday after water burst through a glass window and the bar was closed all weekend, costing the owner and employees money. A hotel adjacent to the Midtown Break evacuated some guests on Monday after a dry weekend.

Some high-rise office buildings remained closed Monday because there was not enough water pressure to run air conditioning units and transport water to higher floors.

Dickens, a first-term Democratic mayor, was in Memphis, Tennessee, on Friday, holding a political fundraiser for his 2025 re-election campaign, and did not return until Saturday. Many residents have attacked the city’s response, saying officials are still failing to communicate clearly, even after Dickens apologized Saturday and promised updates every two hours.

Jose Franco, Milena Franco’s husband, said he and his wife continued to drink tap water for a while on Saturday because they were unaware of the boil water disruption. Both he and his wife said the water shutoff in their apartment caught them by surprise before dawn Monday.

“If they know there will be no water for a few days, they should provide more free water,” said Jose Franco. And he noticed “the elephant in the room”: the inability to flush toilets.

City workers continued to promise free bottled water to affected residents at fire stations on Monday. Dickens declared a state of emergency so the city could buy materials and hire workers without following normal purchasing laws, but a spokesman said there was no estimate yet of how much the emergency had cost the city.

Faltering infrastructure is a common story in older parts of American cities. Atlanta has spent billions in recent years modernizing its aging sewer and water infrastructure, including a tunnel bored through 5 miles of rock to supply the city with stored water for more than 30 days. Last month, voters approved continuing a 1-cent sales tax to pay for federally mandated sewer improvements. The city once routinely dumped untreated sewage into creeks and the Chattahoochee River.

Wiggins said Monday that the city’s water system is “always a work in progress.”

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press