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Sewage Ruins Miami-Area Beaches

June 21, 2000

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The Atlantic Ocean looked crystal clear Wednesday and everyone agreed it should have been a perfect day to plunge in: sunny and around 90 degrees.

But the beach was lined with red ``Danger″ flags and swimming was banned along a 25-mile stretch because a broken pipe spewed more than 25 million gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay.

The spill left fish markets near Miami Beach empty. Some tourists simply sat on the shore, watching the flat ocean, while many locals headed farther north to avoid contaminated waters.

``Today was the day we picked to spend on South Beach,″ grumbled Norma Pryor of Grand Ledge, Mich., who was visiting her daughter in Miami. ``It’s pretty disappointing that we can’t go in the water.″

``It really stinks,″ said Nick Demick, her 15-year-old grandson.

A marine contractor drove a concrete piling through a 54-inch underwater sewage main Tuesday afternoon. By noon Wednesday, the sewage was partially rerouted from the broken main to another line.

Workers hoped to seal the broken main and contain the leak by Friday, said Barbara Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer.

Even if the leak is stopped, contaminated water could linger for some time.

``It’s too early to say when the beaches can be opened,″ said Samir Elmir, administrator of Miami-Dade County Environmental Health.

Miami Beach lifeguards are expecting a challenging few days. They patrolled the beach with whistles and bullhorns in hopes of keeping people on dry land.

``It’s not easy to keep people out of the water,″ Patrick Maher said. ``It’s quite an added responsibility for us.″

Lifeguard Donald Hornby spent the morning turning away anyone hoping to take a dip on what he acknowledged was a perfect day for swimming.

Drinking water was not affected by the spill, but residents of Miami Beach and nearby Bal Harbour were asked to conserve water to reduce the flow into to the sewer system.

Business was down at De Armas Fish Market, even though owner Gilberto De Armas said he gets his fish from the waters surrounding the Florida Keys, south of the affected area.

The spill ``has nothing to do with us, but people think it does,″ De Armas said. ``There is no fish to catch in the bay anyway.″

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