Story & Photos by Nicholas Johnson

Residents of the Cabana Royal Apartment Homes in Burien remained without running water Sunday (July 11, 2021), three days after a pipe broke at the more than 50-year-old complex, forcing managers to shut off water to all units.

The water will be turned on as soon as plumbers are able to fix the broken pipe, which could take as many as three days, said Frank Garcia, the complex’s maintenance manager.

“Hopefully we don’t run into any more complications,” Garcia said Sunday afternoon outside the three-story, 32-unit residential complex at the corner of Ambaum Boulevard Southwest and 4th Avenue Southwest.

Exactly what caused the pipe to break Thursday remains undetermined. On Wednesday, residents found bright orange notices from King County Water District No. 49 on their doorknobs informing them that the water would be shut off from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. the next day in order for crews to replace a nearby water meter along 4th Avenue Southwest.

Resident Laura Dunn said she noticed that the water was shut off early Thursday morning and that it came back on at 9 a.m. Then, at about 5 p.m., the water was shut off once again, according to residents.

“I took a shower early that morning before going to work,” said Lily Mula, who lives in a unit on the ground floor. “When I came home later in the day, my apartment was flooded.”

Mula said she immediately called the complex’s management office to report the emergency.

Property Manager Claudia Montejano posted a notice on residents’ doors Friday informing them of the urgent need for an “emergency major water pipe repair” and stating that “we are unsure of when the water will be back on.” Montejano could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Many residents said they were left to fend for themselves over the weekend, with some showering at other people’s homes and others, such as Dunn, using a bucket full of water to shower.

“We just got left hanging,” she said.

Kurt Linden and Christa Kemp, who live in an apartment next door to the Cabana Royal, learned of their neighbors’ lack of running water Friday evening and immediately began using their hose to fill buckets with water so that their neighbors could flush their toilets.

Linden and Kemp even invited their neighbors to use their shower, and two people took them up on that invitation.

“This is a good community of people here,” said Linden, “so it wasn’t even a question that we would do whatever we could to help.”

In a social media post Saturday, Linden called on the community to drop off drinking water, which many people did throughout the day Sunday. Two Honey Bucket portable toilets were also delivered Sunday.

Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta talks with property owner Judy Rogers on Sunday afternoon as residents gather outside the Cabana Royal Apartment Homes in Burien.

Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta and property owner Judy Rogers met with residents at the complex Sunday afternoon to hear their concerns and better understand the situation. For the complex’s many non-English-speaking residents, Matta served as an interpreter in order to facilitate discussion.

“Save all your receipts and talk to your renter’s insurance company,” Matta advised residents.

The city will continue to work with the complex’s residents to ensure that they know and can assert their rights as tenants, Matta said. As for the cause of the broken pipe, Matta said city officials would be looking into it.

“Was it too much pressure or was it old pipes?” he said. “That will be something the city will have to investigate.”

Eli Zehner, general manager at Water District No. 49, said he suspects the leak could be related to the water meter replacement work his crews performed Thursday morning.

“I think it’s a combination of factors,” he said. “I suspect there’s some old private plumbing and I suspect a water pressure change from our work may have played a role.”

After Matta contacted Zehner on Sunday afternoon, Zehner immediately sent a crew to drop off more drinking water for the residents.

Zehner, who said he was aware of the leak Friday but was under the impression that the property manager was addressing the situation, urged any and all water customers to contact the district any time they have an issue with their water service.

“Ultimately, we need to know about any issues as soon as possible,” he said.

Cabana Royal Apartment Homes neighbor Christa Kemp, far left, stands with residents near a collection of donated drinking water outside the complex Sunday afternoon.
Cabana Royal Apartment Homes neighbor Kurt Linden uses his hose to fill buckets with water Sunday afternoon outside the complex in Burien.
Cabana Royal Apartment Homes resident Doc Sobottke, left, carries a case of drinking water delivered by a local resident Sunday afternoon as Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta and property owner Judy Rogers stand by outside the complex in Burien.

A jug of drinking water sits on a doormat outside a Cabana Royal Apartment Homes resident’s unit Sunday afternoon at the complex in Burien.