Less than three hours after residents were told not to drink water from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, bottled water was flying off the shelves at grocery stores around in Orange County.
A “double whammy” of a broken water pipe and a fluoride overfeed forced more than 80,000 Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents to search for beverages to last at least through the weekend.
At the Walmart on U.S. 15-501, just across the Chatham County line from Orange County, people frantically rushed to the water aisle, only to find it empty. Employees tried to let them know when the next shipment was coming in.
Standing in front of the beer and holding jugs of water, Jordan Thomas, a senior at UNC, said he had been on his way to his first midterm when he was told classes had been canceled and the campus was shut down.
Thomas said his girlfriend works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now deployed in Texas. When he told her about the Orange County water shortage, she told him to drop everything and find water.
“It’s really strange,” he said. “I’ve been here for four years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened.”
Thomas said he wasn’t particularly fearful, yet.
If it goes on for more than three, four or maybe five days, I’ll start to get worried, but right now I’m not too concerned.
Jordan Thomas, a senior at UNC
“If it goes on for more than three, four or maybe five days, I’ll start to get worried, but right now I’m not too concerned,” he added. “I trust the system will work.”
Nearly every shopper in the grocery section of the store had juice, milk, soda or beer packed in their carts. Some said they were preparing for Super Bowl Sunday when they learned about the water shortage and decided to pick up something extra to drink. Others said they were planning to leave the area and stay with friends or families.
Nick Wilkinson and Allee Olive, who live in Carrboro, said they would stay with friends out of town Friday night. Wilkinson said they would stay with family in Winston-Salem if things became dire.
Richard Pizzano was visiting UNC with three law school students from out of town and said that nearly every place in Chapel Hill they intended to visit was closed.
“I wanted to take them to Top of the Hill, which is a classic place to take people, but it’s closed,” Pizzano said of the popular Franklin Street bar.
He and the students are staying in a hotel in Chapel Hill and weren’t exactly sure Friday afternoon where they’d be spending the rest of their stay.
“The traffic was horrendous,” he said. “It was like the scene from War of the Worlds when the Martians were coming and everyone was evacuating with the school buses (leaving). I have never seen anything like this.”
Residents with questions can call Orange County emergency officials at 919-245-6111, send a text message to 888777 with the phrase “owasawater” in the message line, and get updates on Twitter @ocncemergency.
Anna Johnson: 919-419-6675