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Over 200 senior residents displaced after pipe bursts at living community

On Christmas Day, all the residents at Christopher Towers in Columbia were evacuated from the senior living facility and transported to hotels.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Burst water pipes are causing trouble for over 200 residents at a Columbia senior residence facility. 

On Christmas Day, all residents were evacuated from the Christopher Towers and placed in hotels or with family. Deborah Howell described what was running through her mind when alarms sounded through her apartment. 

"Oh no, Lord, not today. Of all days, not today!" she said. 

It brought her back to just a month ago when fire alarms went off and caused 60 residents to evacuate over a fire.

"And here we are Christmas, back at it again," Howell said.

This time, about 225 residents from 15 floors were evacuated when a water pipe burst on the sixth floor. 

"The experience of having to be displaced and throwing something in a bag again and having to leave the comforts of your home on Christmas Day has been really traumatic for a lot of us," Howell said.

The Columbia Richland Fire Department cut off the power and got everyone out of the building, according to Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins.

"It was just a busy, busy, busy day," Jenkins said of the over 900 calls the department received between Thursday and Monday as of 12:30 p.m.

He said the building was recently inspected after the November fire and everything is up to code.

"I think this was just one of those type of times that you know with this cold weather coming in, pipes freezing and bursting, some things just kind of by nature you just can’t help," Jenkins said. "The number one thing is the safety of those folks in that building."

Now, about 85 residents who aren’t able to stay with family have been relocated to the Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Suites. Resident Glenn Deixler said he was grateful for the quick response.

"They definitely did the right thing," Deixler said. "We couldn’t stay there and they got us in a nice hotel and they’re feeding us and you know what more could they do?"

Matthew Neely with the management company Multifamily Select, Inc. said Pulliam Restoration is working to mitigate the water damage.

"Next step right now is to get an electrician out there to check the systems and make sure everything’s good to go," Neely said.

After the electrician deems the building safe, the fire department will also check it out.

"We don’t know how long we’re gonna be out," resident Delores Hunter said. "That’s really the part that bothers everybody."

Deixler agrees.

"It would be nice to know when are we going back, you know, even though it’s nice here, you want to be in your home," he said.

Neely said his hope is for residents to start moving back in on Tuesday, but it all depends on how long the inspection takes. Kathy Hammond said she is looking at the bright side and that's what is getting her through.

"The alternative? No that’s not an option for me. You know, why get negative? Just stay positive and move forward," Hammond said laughing. "Life is about change and you have to learn how to run with the punches so you kind of take a deep breath and say, 'Okay, I can do this and move on from there.' And with the help from others, you end up having a decent like and that’s how it feels."

Neely said that, along with other members of the management company, he will be personally communicating with the residents to let them know when it’s safe to move back to Christopher Towers.

Neely came from Greenville on Christmas to ensure residents were fed and housed. He said Chief Jenkins and Bengie Leverett with the Columbia-Richland Fire Department as well as Rick Patel with the hotels have been instrumental in organizing residents and making sure they have been cared for.

"They have been excellent here at Holiday Inn Express, but there’s nothing like your own bed, especially during the holidays," Howell said.   

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