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Water pipe break prompts homeless shelter evacuation in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 08. 2013 9:29PM
New Horizons for New Hampshire Director Charlie Sherman, right, discusses the situation at Manchester's largest homeless shelter while city enviornmental health director Philip Alexkos listens in. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The city's largest homeless shelter had to be evacuated overnight Sunday, and portable toilets were set up in the parking lot Monday, after a water pipe ruptured overnight.

With limited access to potable water, New Horizons for New Hampshire served cold sandiches and chips on paper plates Monday night, as workers raced to fix the problem, said Executive Director Charlie Sherman. New Horizons serves about 220 meals a day.

Still, Sherman said people would have a place to stay Monday night, and indoor toilets were expected to be in operation some time Monday night. But during much of the morning, the nearly all New Horizons activities were shut down, except the food pantry.

"Because there's no water going into the building, we're basically out of business for the day," Sherman said late Monday morning.

He said the pipe — a main with a diameter of about 6 inches — ruptured about 11:45 p.m. Sunday. That meant sprinklers would not be able to operate, so nearly all of the 55 overnight residents were sent out to the streets.

Jeremy Thompson, who has been living at the shelter for about a year, said he was roused about 1 a.m.

He hung out at a city park for a few hours, then went to the homeless day shelter when it opened.

"I didn't get any sleep. I just walked around," he said. The nighttime low temperature was in the 70s, said New Horizons program director Kevin Kintner.

As a stop gap measure, Manchester firefighters made the sprinkler system operatonal by running water from a nearby hydrant to the building fireplug. Sherman said a second hose provided water for toilets and sinks, but the use of the hose made the water non-drinkable.

The rupture flooded the basement of the Manchester street shelter with about 3 inches of water, said New Horizons maintenance assistant Dennis Grogan. However, offices of case management workers and the Healthcare for the Homeless remained dry.

Sherman said cold sandwiches, chips, bottled water and milk were provided for dinner Monday night. They were served with paper plates and plastic utensils.

He attributed the rupture to the age of the pipe, which he predicted would cost the homeless shelter thousands of dollars to repair.

Sherman said people would be able to sleep at the shelter Monday night. He said New Horizons does not have a contingency plan for warm weather months, and during the winter his only contingency is with the nearby day shelter, which can house 20 people if New Horizons is full.

Sherman said unsettled weather such as rain and storms predicted for much of this week draw more people to the shelter.

"The whole idea is to get them in, not get them out," he said.

Todd Hairgrow, 47, was one of four disabled residents who were able to remain in the building Sunday night. He uses a walker and suffers from complications related to a stroke, he said.

Kintner said the disabled residents remained because a staff member could stay with them.

Hairgrow said he had a breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches and bottled iced tea, then had to leave.

"Right now, we're pretty much at the mercy of the Fire Department," said Hairgrow, as firefighters worked to provide a temporary water supply.

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