Water line break floods Chamber of Commerce building

Columbus firefighters were combating flooding and possible electrical damage at the old train depot on Sixth Avenue, now the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, after a punctured water line caused the basement to flood with six feet of water early Wednesday morning.

Chamber staff were evacuated around 7:30 a.m. after employees noticed smoke in the building. It took more than an hour for emergency workers to enter the building.

The flooding originated from a water line busted by construction on a city sewer and drainage project taking place on Sixth Avenue. Part of the work being done by the Layne construction company includes replacing water lines. The Layne foreman on the site said he did not know anything about the problem inside the Chamber building.

Layne Project Manager Andy Hedrick declined comment on the incident Wednesday afternoon.

Columbus Fire & EMS Battalion Chief Donnie Jones said firefighters were working to drain water from the basement of the historic 1902 building before assessing electrical damage.

"We won't know if there's any electrical damage until we get down there, but we know it set off a couple of the breakers," Jones said.

Power to the building was shut off and access barred. The loss of power shut off the Chamber's server, closing the office Wednesday. Chamber Chief Operating Officer Robb Nichols said he expects the office to re-open at 9 a.m. today.

Chamber President Mike Gaymon said although the incident was unfortunate, it gave Chamber staff an opportunity to practice emergency strategies. "This is a good exercise, unfortunately," he said. "We do have a plan for emergencies. So this is a good opportunity for 'this is what our plan said we would do, and off site stuff and all that. Let's see how well it's going to work.'"

Gaymon said the 600-square-foot room contains mostly electrical work and some documents on higher shelving, due to previous problems with minor flooding. He is unsure when the Chamber will receive an estimate on damages. There also was furniture and other stored items damaged.

It took all day Wednesday and into the evening to pump the water out, Nichols said. The process was complicated because hydraulic fluid contaminated the water, forcing clean-up crews to use special care in disposal, he added. Crews were expected to work through the night.

On Dec. 14, construction workers struck a natural gas line on Sixth Avenue during work on the same sewer project. The line was repaired within an hour, according to a previous Ledger-Enquirer report.

-- Senior editor Chuck Williams contributed to this report.