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Frigid holiday wreaks havoc on water lines, local roadways

METRO ATLANTA — Georgia’s single-digit lows on Christmas weekend left many residents scrambling to stay warm and protect their plumbing while fire departments and hardware stores were overwhelmed with high demand.

In Roswell, the Fire Department received hundreds of calls during the cold snap, nearly five times as many as usual. On Christmas day alone, the department responded to 142 calls.

Roswell Fire Public Information Officer Chad Millersaid he was shocked to learn many residents didn’t know to turn off their main water line when dealing with possible frozen pipes. He also said some of people’s solutions to the freezing temperatures were even more dangerous.

Miller said a structure fire started after a resident tried to heat a frozen pipe outside over a direct flame, accidentally catching their house on fire. He cautioned people against heating frozen pipes with direct flame, and said the safer method is letting warm air circulate and slowly defrost ice.

He said he hopes that people will take fire safety measures in the future to reduce a need for emergency fire responses, since the department is overwhelmed with seasonal calls.

Alpharetta, Roswell and other city officials took to social media Dec. 26, urging residents not to call the city’s emergency 911 center about burst pipes.

“Due to frigid and fluctuating temperatures over the weekend, water pipes have been bursting all around the city overwhelming the 911 system with calls for service,” Alpharetta officials said. “As we always strive to provide the highest level of service to our community, we encourage everyone who experiences a burst or leaking water pipe to first shut off the main water to their property and call a plumber, your landlord or property manager first and NOT to call 911.”

Local plumbers were also overwhelmed— one Sandy Springs plumber announced that “due to extreme weather conditions, we’re experiencing an unusually high volume of calls.”

The calls were largely responding to water line breaks and leaks caused by frozen pipes. If the water inside of the running pipe freezes, the pressure can cause cracks and leaks in pipes, which can eventually lead to severe water damage.

It wasn’t just residential water lines affected by the cold.

Shoppers were evacuated from the Peachtree Dunwoody Road Home Depot store in Sandy Springs Dec. 26 after several pipes at the store’s entrance burst, spraying a deluge of water into the store and parking lot.

After customers were allowed back into the store about an hour later, an employee said the store had sold its entire stock of space heaters by Saturday, Dec. 24.

The Dunwoody Village Parkway Ace Hardware also saw an influx of customers. One employee said they “100 percent sold out of space heaters” and many customers bought ice melts for their frozen sidewalks. 

Two Fulton County Library branches were shut down until further notice due to water damage. The Milton Library and Ocee Library in Johns Creek experienced water damage to carpets, floors, and some shelves and books due to frozen pipes. There are emergency teams working on the libraries, but the Fulton County Library System has yet to announce a reopening date.

Multiple water line breakages caused road closures in Johns Creek and Dunwoody.

On Dec. 25, part of Haynes Bridge Road in Johns Creek was closed due to a large water main break between Haynesbrook Layne and Alvin Road. The road reopened on Dec. 27 after repairs were completed.

Late into the night of Dec. 28, Dunwoody officials announced the DeKalb County Watershed Department sent out crews to fix an 8-inch water main break at 1224 Hammond Drive. After a night with little to no water pressure, repairs wrapped up early Dec. 29.

On open roads, drivers faced possible black ice, a thin coating of ice on the roads difficult to see. On Dec. 27 the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency reported black ice patches on less traveled roads.

Much of north Forsyth County was under a water boil advisory starting on Christmas Day, due to a frozen valve at a service pump station which caused a loss in water pressure for many homes north of Ga. 369.

Officials said the frozen valve was quickly found and fixed, and no break in the Forsyth County system was detected, but the boil advisory was kept in effect until Dec. 28.

Fulton County was not under a water boil advisory, despite social media posts suggesting otherwise. The county put out multiple statements clarifying there was no advisory for the area.

At the same time, while parts of DeKalb County were under a boil water advisory, Dunwoody officials clarified the city was not.

Sawnee EMC reported Dec. 25 that its electrical system was “stressed to its fullest extent” due to power consumption and the freezing temperatures.

In Sandy Springs, the city announced some residents on Dec. 23 were likely waking up to power outages but did not say how many people were impacted. Statewide reports showed thousands of people were left without power.

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Reach Delaney Tarr at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @delaneytarr. Reach Alex Popp at 770-847-7404. Follow him on Twitter @Popp2Alex.

Staff Reporter

Delaney Tarr is a reporter on staff at Appen Media and a graduate of the University of Georgia. To share tips and questions, reach Delaney via email at delaney@appenmedia.com or by phone at 770-847-8079.

Staff Reporter

Alex Popp is a reporter on staff at Appen Media and a graduate of the University of North Georgia. To share tips and questions, reach Alex via email at alex@appenmedia.com or by phone at 770-847-7404.