February 5, 2012—Fremont, CA—Residents of a Fremont neighborhood near I-680 were surprised to find their homes flooding early Saturday morning when an uncovered manhole gushed water into the area. Fremont Fire Battalion Chief Ron McCormick stated that the 8-foot wide pipeline, managed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, burst and flooded an entire block of Wabana Street between McDuff and Nodaway Avenues. Residents were evacuated from four homes, while an additional seven homes took water in basements and garages.
McCormick stated that water department crews, working earlier on the line, had apparently forgotten to bolt down one of the manhole covers. When the water was turned on again, it burst through the manhole, flooding homes on the west side of Wabana Street.
Fortunately, no injuries were recorded, but property damage will certainly be an issue. Fire crews were called and were able to contain the water main by 2 a.m. on Saturday. Water department officials were also called to the scene.
The residents of Wabana Street should be cleared to return to their homes soon.
I want to extend my sympathies to the victims of this unfortunate incident in the loss of their personal possessions, although I am grateful no one was injured.
Although far more people are killed and injured by water in sporting activities than in accidents with public utilities, as city systems age more people may be in danger. It is estimated in northern California that at least 40 percent of utilities pipelines need updating, and the figure could be much higher.
While this accident did not include injuries or fatalities, it is possible that subsequent accidents could do so, especially those involving water under high pressure or gas mains which could leak and lead to explosions.
What Happened In This Accident
Unfortunately, it appears that this accident was the result of sheer human error. Had the manhole cover been properly replaced, it appears that the accident might never have happened. Because of carelessness on the part of an employee or group of employees, many people have suffered loss of personal effects, damage to their homes, and the fear and anxiety of being evacuated.
While governmental entities have limited immunity for their actions when they are performing the jobs assigned to them, this immunity does not extend to deliberate carelessness which causes injuries. The liability issues surrounding the shooting of a fleeing suspect, for example, can be complex; however, in this case, liability issues are fairly straightforward. By not following their own safety procedures, city employees caused tremendous problems for homeowners. A professional personal injury attorney should investigate this case and help the homeowners file claims to have their homes repaired and their possessions replaced.