Emergency workers rescued drivers on a popular commuter route to Washington Monday after a water main break sent a 4-foot wall of water down the road.
At least 15 people in were rescued after the water main failed about 8 a.m. at River Road and Fenway Drive in Bethesda, Md., near the Congressional Country Club, an official said.
Helicopters from the Maryland State Police and U.S. Park Police used buckets to save a handful of drivers, while the county's Swift Water and Technical Rescue teams used boats and ropes for others, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire Department.
"Some motorists here — this is a fairly popular commuter route into Washington — they were confronted with a 4-, 5-foot wall of water," Piringer told FOX News.
A Montgomery County fire chief said a 66-inch water main break caused a rushing river of water to form on the road, trapping at least 15 vehicles with the 15 or more people who were rescued inside.
"These folks were probably caught off-guard in a situation they hadn't predicted," the fire chief told FOX.
A neighbor compared the torrent — at one point 135 million gallons of water per minute — to a nearby body of water.
"I thought it might be a minor leak, then suddenly I stepped outside and 'My God!'" said Raj Bhansaly, who lives 50 feet from the flood. "It looked literally like the Potomac River."
John White, a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman, said the valves to shut off the water were underwater. White said he did not know exactly where the break occurred.
Montgomery County schools were closing about 2 1/2 hours early because the main break caused widespread water outages across part of the county.
Because of the gushing water's intensity, fire officials did not allow utility workers to immediately shut down valves where the break occurred, White said. But crews were able to shut down two valves farther down the pipeline, slowing the flow.
There have been several major water main breaks this year in the wealthy suburb of Montgomery County. In June, a rupture closed more than 800 restaurants and left tens of thousands of people scrambling for clean drinking water.
The Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission has warned its system is aging, overtaxed and underfunded. It serves 1.8 million suburban Maryland customers and has had an increasing number of water main breaks, including 1,357 between January and November this year. Last year, it had a record 2,129 breaks or leaks.
White said the pipe that broke Tuesday was installed in 1964.
"We're plagued by old pipes," White said. "Throughout the nation, aging infrastructure is a problem."
A few hours after the water main break, much of the water had subsided, but buckled pavement was visible. Workers were inspecting the structural integrity of the street.
The temperatures in the area were frigid. The National Weather Service said the temperature was around 20 degrees.
"Some have required some EMS due to hypothermia," Piringer said. "This is pretty cold here this morning."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.