In a freak accident last night, the ground split open and the water started gushing out in the parking lot between Buildings 1, 3 and 5. The water flooded the lot as well as the only exit, trapping several cars and SUVs. Many labs and offices nearby were also flooded.
The flooding started around 6:15 last night, when an underground water running through the center of the parking lot burst and the escaping water ruptured the asphalt above. By 7 p.m. the lot was entirely underwater, even though it is equipped with four drains. Workers weren’t able to shut off the line until several hours later, and the water did not drain out of the parking lot until 9:45 p.m.
Buildings 3, 10, and 11 were flooded, and several labs and offices needed to be vacuumed and cleaned. Buildings 5 and 7, which were west of the parking lot, were not as affected as buildings to the east. At Building 10 the elevator pit was filled by several feet of water.
The flooding was worst at the underpass between Buildings 7 and 3, where the depth reached 17 inches. There the water lapped at the knees of several wading facilities worker.
That underpass is also only way out for the vehicles in the parking lot. Many people drove through the water to leave, but some decided not to take the chance One woman asked a facilities worker move her SUV to the far side of the parking lot, where the water was only a few inches high. The MIT policeman at the scene advised her to take a taxi home rather than to drive out of the parking lot.
One man in his SUV sent water flying into the hallways as he drove through the underpass when the doors on both sides happened to be open.
“He was driving like 20 miles per hour and the water shot like 200 yards into the building and flooded all the rooms,” said Timothy J. Hennelly, a stock clerk for MIT Facilities.
The burst pipe was an old cast iron pipe which supplied potable water.
One facilities worker on the scene said, “This main is about as old as the building itself. It should have been replaced ages ago.”
John L. Gibbs, a supervisor in Custodial Services who specializes in water, said that the water pipes “probably go back to 1912, 1920.”
The shut off valve was near the Rotch Library. Gibbs estimated that at least Buildings 3 and 5 were without water as a result of the water shut-off.
Hennelly suspects that a crane which drove through the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. yesterday caused the rupture. He said that the weight of the crane and the vibrations of it passing through might have weakened the water pipe.