Local News

Wake County Courthouse Reopens Despite Water Damage

Posted August 7, 2006 1:11 a.m. EDT

— Less than three days after thousands of gallons of water flowed through the Wake County Courthouse, thousands of people flowed through the building's courtrooms and hallways Monday.

Two contract workers were working on the sprinkler system Friday night when a pressurized pipe burst, sending water cascading through two floors of the courthouse and into the parking garage, authorities said.

County clean-up crews worked through the weekend to get the courthouse up and running for its busy Monday morning rush. Floors, walls and files had to be dried out, and water-damaged equipment had to be replaced.

"Computers, telephones and files (were damaged), and we had some copiers and printers that were pretty much ruined," Clerk of Court Jan Pueschel said.

District Court Judge Jennifer Knox lit a candle in her courtroom to diffuse the smell of the weekend flood. When she first arrived Monday morning, she said the smell was so bad that she and her staff couldn't stop coughing. They spent the first hour walking across a saturated carpet to throw away wet paperwork.

"It's musty. There was an inch of water covering everything. The ceiling tiles were on the ground," Knox said.

Two of four elevators at the courthouse remained out of commission Monday. Since most cases are heard on the fifth floor, lawyers, litigants and others had to take the stairs.

A bad leg forced Oscar Smith to wait for an elevator for 30 minutes.

"Generally it's not at best with four running, so with two, it's impossible for clients to get up and down unless they take the stairs or wait forever," lawyer Rick Gammon said. "It's just ridiculous the number of cases we have set in these courtrooms. There's no way to take care of all of them whether the elevators are working or not."

All four elevators are expected to be working by Tuesday.

Pueschel said she hopes to get some extra clerks to help her dry paperwork and reprint files that cannot be salvaged.

"We barely keep up. Sometimes, we don't with the amount of work we do. Anything that puts us behind is a problem," she said.

Officials said total costs for the cleanup are expected to exceed $50,000. It will take a couple of weeks for the building to completely dry out, they said.