City officials say a private contractor working to build a luxury apartment building near the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 2nd Street North broke the water main.
The break released 14 million gallons of water that flowed like streams through Minneapolis streets in a four-block radius. By 9 p.m. Thursday, Minneapolis officials said that workers had restored normal water service to most of the area affected by water main break, although several buildings will remain without water until repairs can be made.
Most of the water flowed down Hennepin toward the Mississippi River. In its path was the U.S. Post Office and its underground parking ramp.
Postal worker Tim Strauss said he saw 10 to 12 feet of water in the ramp.
"I saw cars with their headlights on where people had obviously tried to get out and the cars were floating in the water," Strauss said. "It's pretty bad."
Strauss was lucky. He parked his car on the upper levels.
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Strauss said he was not told to go home, despite the Post Office no longer having running water.
Several local businesses did send their employees home. The Guthrie Theater canceled the evening's performance, the Mill City Museum closed its doors early and restaurants located several blocks away down Hennepin and Washington avenues also closed.
The breach of the 36-inch water main was felt by people in other parts of the city as well, City Public Works director Steve Kotke said.
"It also reduced the water pressure in most of downtown and even in bits of south Minneapolis. All the way to Lake of the Isles," Kotke said. "It has impacted a very large area."
He said while the water main break diminished water pressure in other parts of the city, it should not affect the safety of the water.
"What will happen here as we do the repair to this particular main — we always go through a process of chlorinating and making sure that safe before we restore this particular service," Kotke said. "But the rest of the system is fine."
The city will also have to make sure the flooded roads will be ready to reopen after the waters recede, Kotke said. With temperatures well below freezing, the streets were expected to ice overnight Thursday. He said work crews planned to scrape as much ice off the streets as possible before putting down salt and sand.
The city advises that water is safe to drink for customers whose water service has been restored to normal pressure. Some customers may see cloudy looking water as service resumes. If water appears cloudy or discolored, people are advised to let the water run until the discoloration goes away.