Water Main Break Gives Church Hope

Pastor Stephanie Stratford (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Alexandra Wilding)

Pastor Stephanie Stratford (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Alexandra Wilding)

CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. – At 8 a.m. Monday, Pastor Stephanie Stratford of the Ekklesia Family Life and Worship Center got a call from her leasing office urging her to come to the church right away. 

“I didn’t have any idea it was complete and total devastation until I got here,” said Stratford, as she walked through what remained of the church she established and has led since 2007.

In what was once her office, decorated with a sofa and various knickknacks, there is now only mud, dehumidifiers to prevent mold, and remnants of walls that were ripped apart by the force of rushing water.

The water, about 50 million gallons of it, gushed around 3:30 a.m. that morning from a broken water main after reinforcing wires snapped. It rushed into the office park housing the church and onto the nearby inner loop of the Capital Beltway, causing about 400,000 Prince George’s County customers of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to lose water pressure and to be advised to boil their water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth and food preparation.

With low water pressure, there is an increased risk of contamination.

The exact cause of the water main break is still being determined, but the main’s reinforcing wires appear to have been invaded by corrosion, said I.J. Hudson, a spokesman for the WSSC. The 54-inch main is 40 years old.

The boil-water advisory is still in effect for customers in the area south of Central Avenue and Route 202. The WSSC plans to make an announcement about the advisory sometime Thursday, Hudson said.

On Tuesday, crews contracted by the WSSC cleaned up the area surrounding the broken pipe, piling up chairs and other debris that floated out of the Ekklesia Family Life and Worship Center when their glass windows shattered under the water’s pressure.

In terms of property damage, this was a bad incident, said WSSC customer advocate Kevin Woolbright. As the rushing water snaked through the church, it displaced furniture, shattered windows and tore down walls.

The church, which serves 60 families with Sunday services and Thursday evening Bible study, will not be torn down, but the inside of the building including walls, windows and carpeting will have to be replaced, a process that could take four to six weeks, Stratford said.

The cost of the repairs will be covered by the WSSC, officials said.

Robert Jennings, a youth minister with the church and Stratford’s son, expressed optimism about the church’s future, despite the damage to the building. “We are excited about where God is taking us,” he said. “It’s a great loss, but it’s not a setback.”

This Sunday, Stratford, joined by members of her congregation, will preach at both Galilee Baptist Church in Suitland and Brown Memorial AME Church in Washington.

Despite the damage to her church, Stratford spoke calmly and with a smile about the future.

“I’m excited because I know that what I lost is going to be nothing compared to what I receive in return,” she said.  “So, I think that this is also a defining moment in the life of our church and in the development of the faith of our congregation.”

For more information on the water advisory and to find affected areas, visit http://www.wsscwater.com/.

More photos in Newsline slide show.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Alexandra Wilding

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