All the residents of Chapel Hill were being asked to stop using water from their taps until further notice.
According to the news broadcast on the morning of Friday, Feb 3, a water main supplying the town had burst and the spillage had caused water levels to drop so low that it was in danger of contamination.
To allow levels to come back up, everyone receiving piped water had to stop using it. I turned off the washing machine and said to my husband: "If this is true, there will be a run on bottled water at the grocery store."
My husband seemed remarkably unconcerned. "I wouldn't worry about it," he said.
Nevertheless, I thought I should stop in at the Harris Teeter near the gym after my lunchtime workout. As I parked the car, people were streaming out of the supermarket with carts piled with water. Sure enough, the shelves were almost bare.
I stood there and stared at them with the other latecomers. Finally, I left with one 24-pack of bottled still water and a case of sparkling water. As I passed a man loading up at the wine section, he joked: "At least we won't run out of beer." I rang my mother-in-law, who was running errands in another town and advised her to buy water before coming home. She told me later the Walmart in Morrisville was low on water as well by the time she got there.
On social media, friends who had bottled water offered it to those who did not have. There are 60,000 residents in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and most are on piped water, though a small number have private wells. Besides those who live or study here, however, thousands more commute to this college town to work.
The unexpected moratorium on water use upset just about every business in Chapel Hill and the adjoining town of Carrboro that day since no one could drink it, cook with it, wash with it or even flush the toilets.
Every restaurant was ordered closed. Hotels desperately rang those in Durham and farther afield to relocate guests. Weddings were moved, clinic appointments postponed. I wondered how the hospitals and the university, the town's main employers, coped. Even the kids were sent home early from school, in the interest, I think, of personal hygiene.
This mishap had its beginning the day before, when an employee at the water treatment plant inadvertently added too much fluoride to the water supply. The plant had to divert this entire supply of water to the sewage treatment system. Chapel Hill then asked its neighbour city of Durham for water, but there was already a critical shortage when the main line burst on Friday morning....................