SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Grilling hamburgers and steak tips in the sunshine Tuesday made J.P. Thornton’s cook Cameron Charles smile.
But his pleasure was tempered by memories of a water main break that closed the business a week ago and forced its owners to resort to offering al fresco dining by donation to raise money to pay their staff.
“It was a mess, all the way around,” Charles said of the flood at the deli, lounge and restaurant on Sept. 6.
Around the corner in the L-shaped shopping plaza at 740 Broadway, staff at Greener Postures Yoga Studio said they expect to reopen Friday after the installation of a new bamboo floor.
The water main break occurred around 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6, at the beginning of J.P. Thornton’s dinner rush, and as customers were ordering from a new menu. Customers had to leave hungry, some using a rear door to avoid about a foot of water in the parking lot.
The deli reopened Wednesday, and the lounge was expected to reopen at noon Thursday. The restaurant, which needs new carpeting and had its walls cleaned, may remain closed for another week or 10 days, according to owner Tom Howard.
Thornton’s cook Don Foudriat said he was in the kitchen when the flood began.
“I looked over and it started bubbling up from the floor drain,” he said. “It was this murky, muddy water.”
Portland Water District spokeswoman Michelle Clements said the water main was more than 100 years old and carried drinking water. Crews were notified about 7 p.m. about the break, which was the first of two in the city that night.
A section of Broadway extending west from Anthoine Street was closed until about 3:30 p.m. Sept. 7.
Around 9 p.m., Portland Water District crews responded to a report of another water main break, on Hinckley Drive, where a pipe installed in 1999 had burst. It was the sixth water main break in the city since Aug. 24, Clements said.
A seventh water main break in the city occurred Thursday around 11 a.m. in the area of 65 Evans St. One lane of the street was expected to be closed until 7 p.m. as crews repaired the main.
Lost sales, wages and tips affected about 43 Thornton’s employees, Howard said, and he credited them for the idea of the benefit cookout held for more than eight hours Tuesday.
What started as lunch cooked over a gas grill lasted through supper. Some customers came with empty stomachs and donated what they could. Others heard about the cookout and just opened their wallets, Howard said.
“The people of South Portland are incredible,” he said.
“We were just driving by and saw the sign,” contractor Mike Heathers said as he and co-worker Zarra Hermann ate lunch Tuesday at a shaded outdoor table. “We had heard the story, and thought it was sad to see it happen.”
The cookout also gave employees a break from the relentless cleaning needed to reopen the business. As the cookout began, a city health inspector was giving the OK for the deli and lounge to reopen.
Greener Postures staffer Kelly Casey said the flooding came just as co-owner and instructor Danielle Toolan was finishing a class.
Getting customers out went well, and Casey credited the calming effects of the class.
“That’s what we practice, it was a great aspect because everyone in the class handled it so gracefully,” she said.
Casey said cleanup began that night, but a new floor and portions of wall board had to be installed because of the water damage. Casey said community support in the past week has been deeply appreciated.
Clements said water main problems are difficult to detect unless district staff note a pressure drop in a larger main. Response to problems and breaks is generated largely by calls from residents or municipal authorities.
When property or business owners have damage from a water main break, they should first file claims with their own insurers. Clements said claims can be filed with the water district, which also carries insurance, but the district also has legal immunity from lawsuits unless negligence can be established.