Communities varied in offering bottled relief

Some set limits or saw no need; others ran out

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 4, 2010

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They arrived yesterday and on Sunday by the truckload in the suburbs surrounding Boston, from Quincy to Saugus, just about anywhere east of Weston, pallets carrying cases of water, by the gallon and by the bottle.

“The game plan was to distribute as much as possible to anyone who wanted and needed it,’’ said Christopher Walker, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas P. Koch of Quincy.

By most accounts, the plan worked. If the 30 communities under a boil-water order following the break in the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s distribution system in Weston Saturday asked for water, they got it, as soon as Sunday.

On Sunday and into yesterday morning, officials in multiple communities passed out cases to residents who waited in their cars, some for hours. Lines stretched over a mile in some areas.

Christina Baletsa of Saugus waited for 45 minutes to pull up in front of the fire station in her town so that an emergency management worker could drop a case in her car. Baletsa said that she was running out of water at home and that she was worried about her mother.

“There’s no water in stores, and they say it could be days’’ before the break is repaired, she said.

Doug Harrison, 76, of Saugus had been boiling water. But after he heard of the distribution center, he walked the short distance to the fire station to pick up a case of six 1-gallon jugs.

“This will make things easy,’’ he said.

It was the same in other towns. Walker said officials passed out more than 3,600 cases (some carrying 1-gallon jugs, others carrying 12-ounce bottles) for two hours in Quincy Sunday night and then again yesterday afternoon.

In Medford, town officials passed out 5,000 gallons of water Sunday and received another delivery of 10,000 gallons to pass out yesterday afternoon, said Mayor Michael J. McGlynn.

In Winthrop, town officials who had already passed out 6,000 1-gallon jugs and roughly 4,000 cases of water since Sunday said that they received another 20 pallets of water yesterday afternoon.

“We’ve had a constant flow of people,’’ said Fire Chief Paul Flanagan.

By yesterday afternoon, local officials across Greater Boston said they had received an ample supply of bottled water. And if they ran out of water in distribution centers, they were confident that the local retail stores had been able to restock their shelves. Saugus and Quincy did run out, but officials there said they were confident residents had enough.

Boston and Somerville reserved water for residents most in need: the elderly and low-income families.

Some communities — such as Chelsea, Stoughton, and Canton — did not request water at all, believing that stores already had an ample supply.

Jay Ash, Chelsea’s city manager, said yesterday that a trip to the local Market Basket showed the grocery store had stocked shelves, and a storefront display of water had been set up. A truck was outside delivering more water.

“You can walk in Market Basket and walk out in two minutes’’ with water, Ash said. “It looked like a regular day.’’

He said city officials were monitoring the supply and comparing it to forecasts for when the water system would be back on line and would request water from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency if necessary.

“We have assessed what our local situation is and believe our resources are ample enough and we do not need to tap into a resource other people may need,’’ Ash said.

By yesterday afternoon, the Massachusetts National Guard set up two distribution centers in Boston to receive water from commercial vendors and then ship them out to individual cities. Communities could pick up water on their own, or soldiers would drive cargo trucks, even Massachusetts Highway Department trucks, to deliver the water.

Peter Judge, a spokesman for MEMA, said trucks were also on their way from Canada yesterday with more water. The process for requesting water began immediately Saturday, when initial reports indicated it could take as long as two weeks to repair the water system.

That could mean the state could have an oversupply of water, he said.

But that was little comfort for people who lined up at local distribution centers yesterday, only to hear that the town had run out of water.

Charles Faletra of Saugus waited in line for close to an hour. “Now you tell me,’’ he said.

“Oh, well,’’ said Tom Doyle, also of Saugus. “My daughter lives in Tewksbury. I’ll get some there.’’

Milton Valencia can be reached at

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