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Water shutoff causes shutdown of stores, too

Rock Falls residents load up at Walgreen’s, one of the last businesses in the city to close Thursday. Also ordered to close were all schools, bars and restaurants until the city’s sewage backup was resolved.
Rock Falls residents load up at Walgreen’s, one of the last businesses in the city to close Thursday. Also ordered to close were all schools, bars and restaurants until the city’s sewage backup was resolved.

ROCK FALLS – What do you do when you have no running water in your home?

For some Thursday in Rock Falls, where the city’s water supply was shut down about 3:40 p.m. because of a sewer system failure, the response was to go buy bottled water.

But even that proved problematic.

“Their doors are locked,” Mickey Vasquez said in front of the Save-a-Lot grocery on First Avenue.

Vasquez washed his dishes at home before the water was shut off.

He, like many other people Thursday, found grocery stores, restaurants, businesses and bars closed.

Two hastily written signs were on the doors at Save a Lot: “Save a Lot closed. We apologize for the inconvenience” and “Out of Water.” Later, an electronic sign under the store’s logo told customers, “We are closed due to no water.”

Derrick Hand, son of Alderman Dave Hand, was looking to buy bottled water and realized the store was shut down.

Related story: Sewage backup prompts city to shut off all water

He said the city called his father’s house to inform him of the problem. He then relayed it to the alderman, who was working outside town.

A few blocks south, however, at Walgreens, it was business as usual. Well, sort of.

The parking lot at the Rock Falls store was full, with drivers jockeying for position. Many customers’ carts contained cartons of bottled water. Much of Walgreens’ water was still on hand at 5:20 p.m.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Walgreens was open, while other stores were shut down. A clerk said the store hadn’t received any order to close. That call came later.

The Whiteside County Health Department was working to notify all schools, businesses, restaurants, and bars to close until further notice.

Dave Barajas of La Familia Restaurant on First Street said he hadn’t seen anything like it in 15 years at the restaurant.

“The cook told me we were without water,” he said. “We figured it was a maintenance issue. Then a customer called me and said the water was out.”

The Whiteside County Health Department called Barajas while a reporter was in La Familia. The agency told him to shut down.

“Turn the lights off,” Barajas told an employee.

He said he was told that when he reopened, the restaurant would be under a boil order.

“No one said how long this will be,” Barajas said.

He said he would have to cancel a catering job Thursday night.

A few doors over, JW’s Third Base Pizza had water running. An employee said the place had had water all day. Just a few minutes after that, the water was out at JW’s.

At Corner Tap, bartender Jane Sutton found out about the outage from one of her customers, who heard it on the bar’s TV.

The bar was still open. Five customers were drinking beer, two at video gaming machines.

“We haven’t gotten a call from the Health Department,” Sutton said.

At Walmart, an employee greeted customers outside. “Sorry, we’ve had to close the store,” he said.

The remaining customers were leaving the store, some with plenty of bottled water in their carts.

Transitions Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was thawing snow for its toilets, said Julie Logan, the nursing home’s administrator. 

For kitchen needs, she said, the facility has a potable water supply contract.

“That’s for when a terrible thing like this happens, so we don’t have to depend on Walmart,” she said. 

A woman from Rock Falls who said her first name was Debbie, was upset with the response she got when she called City Hall.

“I just wanted to know what to do, so I called over there to ask,” said Debbie, who did not want to give her last name. “I said that I had three kids, and they said just go out and melt snow. I know they’re frustrated, but just say ‘We’re working on it’ or something.”

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