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Mecklenburg courthouse reopens after water main break

A broken water main that shut down Mecklenburg County's judicial system for several hours was repaired Monday afternoon, allowing county officials to reopen the courthouse and resume court sessions.

Several hundred employees and jurors waited on sidewalks outside the courthouse in Charlotte's uptown for about two hours Monday afternoon, waiting for the courthouse to reopen. They had been told to return to the courthouse at noon, but it was about 2 p.m. when repairs were finished and the building reopened.

Karen Whichard, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, said shortly before 2 p.m. that crews had repaired an 8-inch water line that had ruptured sometime around 6 a.m. on McDowell Street. The repairs allowed water service to be restored to the the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and the Crown Plaza Hotel, Whichard said.

She said the southbound lanes of McDowell Street will remain closed into the evening hours, however, as crews repair the roadway.

After the line ruptured, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police immediately closed the southbound lanes of McDowell Street near Third Street. Water was several inches deep in the southbound lanes for a time Monday morning. As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities workers repaired the break, water to the the courthouse building had to be cut off. Mecklenburg health officials ordered that the building be evacuated until water is restored, said signs were posted on the courthouse doors.

Whichard said Monday morning that crews planned to temporarily "band the line and get water service back up for the rest of the afternoon so people can go back into the affected buildings. Then we'll come back in the overnight hours and do a full-fledged repair."

The courthouse evacuation was ordered about 9:30 a.m. Hundreds poured out. They were told to return at noon, when the situation would be assessed and the building possibly reopened. A spokesman for the courthouse said shortly before 1 p.m. that some court sessions would be resumed by 1:30 p.m. Meanwhile, a large crowd of people waited outside the building in the chilly weather.

Several jurors and prospective jurors told reporters they were forced to stand outside the building in the chilly conditions, for fear they would be found in contempt of court if the courthouse reopened and court sessions began before they returned.

It was after 2 p.m. before the courthouse was reopened.

Lizette Parker, who works on the eighth floor of the courthouse, said she doesn't plan to return to work today. She was waiting around midday Monday for a ride to return her to her home in University City.

“I don’t drive," Parker said. "Once I’m home, I’m home.”

Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.

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