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Burst pipe near State House causes road collapse, snarls traffic

Boston, MA 010413 Water main break at Bowdoin Street near the MA State House and with the intersection of Cambridge St on January 4, 2013. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET
A water main break flooded the area at Bowdoin Street near the State House on Saturday afternoon.Credit: Essdras M. Suarez/ Globe Staff

An underground fire pipe burst this afternoon in downtown Boston, causing a partial road collapse and snarling traffic near a busy stretch of Cambridge Street.

The high pressure pipe broke near 37 Bowdoin St., said Boston Water and Sewer Commission spokeswoman Danielle Domingos. The rupture sent a torrent of water into the street, floating large chunks of gravel into nearby roads. The ensuing flood also washed away earth beneath the roadway, causing a large section of pavement to collapse downward.

Bowdoin Street is closed because of the break, as is Cambridge Street near its intersection with Bowdoin. The closures forced traffic onto small, one-lane roads, resulting in massive backups near Government Center and the State House.

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The cause of the break was not immediately clear, but bitterly cold temperatures have caused many pipes to burst around the region today.

Domingos said that while similar water main breaks usually can be repaired in four to six hours, Boston Water and Sewer crews that stopped the leak were standing by because it was unclear who was responsible for the fire pipe. Generally, she said, building owners must maintain and repair fire pipes that service their properties. In this case, however, the owner may be the state, which owns many nearby buildings.

Regular water service to nearby buildings was not interrupted, since the pipe that broke is only used for fire suppression systems in a nearby building, Domingos said.

Boston Police cruisers remained on scene hours after the break, directing traffic away from the unstable and debris-strewn sections of Bowdoin Street.

Kristin Kelly, the 26-year-old general manager of the nearby Grotto restaurant, was forced to close the business when Bowdoin Street was shut to traffic. It was yet another blow to her business in a week that already saw the restaurant lose heat during the snowstorm Thursday and Friday.

“Saturday is one of our busiest nights,” she sighed. “Not opening is less than ideal.”

Jim Woodworth, 59, works at the nearby Church of St. John the Evangelist, and said the building suffered minor flooding in the basement. He witnessed the initial break.

“There was a lot of water coming out of there real fast, moving chunks of stuff. Big rocks, bigger than softballs,” he said. “I could have almost put my canoe down there and had a nice ride down the hill.”

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