PASCAGOULA -- During the last week's heavy rains, a sewer manhole on Ford Avenue in Pascagoula spewed raw sewage onto a neighborhood street the day after Christmas.
Water pushed the heavy manhole cover upward, and what was coming out shocked people who saw it.
A Sun Herald reader documented it and reported it to the city and her neighborhood association that morning, but she said it was night before a city employee arrived to clean it up.
"I know it was a holiday," said Betty Burnsed, "but it's poop in the street. That's how people get diseases. Children ride their bikes on that street."
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She came across it while taking her dog for a run, and took a picture. Her dog had stepped in it, and it got on her bicycle tires before she realized it.
"I almost had a heart attack," she said. "It was poop, toilet paper, condoms."
The manhole cover is an access point to the sewer system that runs under the street in one of the older parts of Pascagoula.
On Tuesday, after a few days of dry weather, the Ford Avenue manhole was dry. But Wednesday morning, with more heavy rain, it was overflowing again.
The Ford Avenue manhole is in a low spot along Bayou Yazoo, which flows south. South of the manhole is the city's Inner Harbor and the Mississippi Sound, so sewage flowing from Ford Avenue likely ends up there.
Pascagoula is undergoing millions of dollars in sewerage improvements to fix such problems. Residents in the Bayou Yazoo neighborhood say the recent work seems to have fixed a problem manhole on Pascagoula Street near Trent Lott Middle School.
But both the Ford Avenue manhole and the one on Magnolia Street near the Jackson County Services Complex spewed toilet paper and raw sewage over the holidays.
Burnsed said the Ford Avenue manhole has had sewage flow out of it at least once a year for years. Last summer, she said, city workers sprayed disinfectant after they cleaned it up. But she didn't see that happen after Christmas. The Jackson County Utility Authority, which treats city sewage, said the procedure is to spread lime in the area and file a report.
A JCUA official said Wednesday the Pascagoula/Moss Point sewage-treatment plant was treating five times the normal daily amount of sewage because of the rainwater intrusion. West Jackson County and Gautier had similar overloads.
"How does sewage get loose, anyway?" Burnsed asked and suggested the city pave over the manhole or weld it shut.
6 inches of rain
In an ideal world, storm water and sewage are separate, City Manager Joe Huffman said, "but we got 6 inches of rain."
He said he received calls through the holidays about problems the heavy rains caused.
When water enters sewer lines during especially heavy rains, it overwhelms the sewer and pushes storm water and sewage up through the manholes. It's a problem in Pascagoula -- as in other cities during excessive rains -- when sewer pipes are old, cracked or crumbling or caps that normally protect sewer entry points in yards are missing or broken, Huffman said.
Pascagoula has borrowed $15 million to address its sewer issues. The city is rehabilitating sewer lines, fixing cracks that allow water in, replacing lines and making sure manholes are sealed.
"We're spending money to fix the overall problem," he said.
And Huffman said, "If it's a regular sewer manhole, you can't pave over it" to keep the sewage in.
The manhole provides access to the sewer at a specific location, and that's important, he said.
Damage to sewer lines lets rain water into the system, he said, "but where you notice the problem isn't necessarily where it's happening."
He said water may actually be entering the system as far as a mile away.