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The Boston Globe

Metro

Burst pipe floods part of Brigham and Women’s

Hospital diverts ambulances

A broken water pipe sent water streaming down six floors of the main inpatient building at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Tuesday morning, leading officials to cancel elective surgeries, move 30 patients, and halt all ambulance traffic to the emergency department, officials said.

The flood was one of a number of incidents in the region attributed to the plummeting temperatures.

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Traffic was backed up for miles on Route 9 after a water main cracked in Southborough. Trains were canceled and delayed after switching signals failed in North Station. Officials at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission said they received about 75 calls for frozen pipes by late afternoon and had responded to 10 water leaks and 11 broken pipes across the city, all the result of the frigid weather.

The leak at Brigham and Women’s began at about 6 a.m. when a pipe cracked on the sixth floor of the main inpatient tower, where cancer patients are treated. Water was visible as far down as the lobby, where cleanup crews were mopping up.

There was a pungent smell throughout the building. Hospital officials attributed it to a chemical used to prevent corrosion in the pipes.

No one was injured, said
Erin McDonough, a hospital spokeswoman.

She said all the affected patients were moved to other areas of the hospital. She added that the hospital’s emergency department had operated under a code black until 2 p.m., meaning all ambulances were diverted to nearby hospitals. Walk-in patients were still admitted.

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“It’s just a measure of precaution,” said McDonough, who added that the cracked pipe was presumed to be the result of the weather.

The stress on the region’s infrastructure came as temperatures plunged to a low of 12 degrees in Boston in the morning, after reaching a high of 56 degrees Monday afternoon, said the National Weather Service in Taunton.

The mercury was expected to fall overnight to a low of 7 degrees and rise to a high of 22 Wednesday.

Officials at the Weather Service also said they had revised their description of the large snowstorm that hit the region last week, saying they were able to verify blizzard conditions Thursday night and Friday morning in Hyannis, Marshfield, Falmouth, and Nantucket.

In Boston, public health officials sought to keep the homeless off the streets, packing shelters to capacity or beyond.

Over the weekend, Boston Emergency Medical Service officials responded to eight calls in which the patient’s chief complaint was exposure to the cold weather, said Nick Martin, a spokesman for the Boston Public Health Commission.

In Southborough, Karen M. Galligan, superintendent of the Public Works Department, said the water main break was first discovered around 6:30 p.m. Monday and was not repaired until 2 p.m. Tuesday.

She said traffic had backed up as far as Interstate 495, or about 5 miles.

Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail, said 20 trains were delayed and six were canceled, affecting about 2,000 passengers, after the control system for train signals and railroad switches failed for all tracks leaving North Station.

He said the system is 35 years old and prone to fail in cold weather.

“The cold affects the circuitry,” he said.

Kelly Smith, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, said “the system fared well, given the extreme conditions.”

She added: “Our cold weather plan was put into action [Monday] afternoon in anticipation of the plummeting temperatures overnight to make sure we were properly prepared for today’s commute, and, overall, only a couple of disabled trains can be attributed to the cold snap.”

Globe correspondent Catalina Gaitan and Chelsea Conaboy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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