GROCERY SHOPPERS from Germantown, Nicetown and East Falls jammed the Bakers Centre ShopRite on Fox Street near Hunting Park Avenue yesterday afternoon, just a day after a 4-foot-wide water main under the parking lot burst, flooding the megastore and nearby shops.
James Lee, manager of Hair Buzz, a beauty-products store, said: "Water was shooting out of the ground and pouring mud over all 12,000 square feet in here like a tsunami. It destroyed a lot of stuff. I can't sell hair dryers in soggy boxes."
James Hall, a four-year Philadelphia Water Department veteran, manned a fire hose, shooting pressurized water onto a muddy section of the parking lot close to the cavernous 60-by-80-foot, 20-foot-deep hole where two bulldozers spent all day digging to clear the shattered main.
Hall said he'd worked the flood cleanup from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, returned yesterday at 6 a.m. and was still at it late yesterday afternoon - one of an army of Water Department workers in and around the hole.
After being alerted by a 4 a.m. alarm Saturday that signaled a massive water-main break, crews responded "within minutes," said Water Department spokesman John DiGiulio, and were able to turn off valves and cut the flow after 13 million gallons had flooded the Bakers Centre stores.
DiGiulio said he won't know if freezing temperatures played a role until forensic experts examine the main, but "wintertime is our break season. That main has been there since 1895. The average life span is 100 to 125 years."
So the main was in the winter of its useful life, regardless of the season.
When ShopRite opened five months ago, the 72,000-square-foot supermarket was hailed as a nutritional oasis in a neighborhood that was previously a grocery-deprived food desert.
So the Water Department's all-night efforts to fight the flood and reopen ShopRite were much appreciated by grateful shoppers.
Deborah Horton of Hunting Park, who saw the flood video on TV, thought the ShopRite would be closed, then heard the good news from her sister yesterday.
"I'm shopping a little late and I'll start my dinner a little late," Horton said, pushing a fully loaded cart with her three foster children - Shamir, 8; Shateisyah, 5; and Jenna, 2.
Shateisyah carried a sixpack of paper towels that was as big as she was.
"We'll have barbecued chicken, baked potato and broccoli," Horton said, while the kids hung on every word and smiled.