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Amid Heat Wave, Thousands in DC Metro Area Prepare to Be Without Water

BananaStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A drive through Prince George’s County on the southeast side of the Washington, D.C. metro area found residents scrambling on Tuesday to stockpile water in scorching triple-digit heat. About 200,000 residents in the area, which includes Andrews Air Force Base, will be without running water for up to five days while workers complete an emergency replacement of a water main there.

“Luckily the electricity is on. But water -- you cannot do without water. So that was shock and awe!” Daphne Burnett of Ft. Washington, Md., told ABC News from the driveway of her single-level home.  “I cannot fathom what five days will be like without water. So I’m filing this bucket for the bathroom. I’m filing it up!” 

Burnett’s garden hose had almost fully filled a 40-gallon recycling bin to the brim.

She’s not alone.  Dozens of residents were filling trash cans, bath tubs, coolers, and children’s swimming pools to store water for an outage that could last five days or more.  They planned to use small buckets to fill toilet tanks to keep things moving; others planned to boil the water to take sponge baths.

“My toilets are one gallon -- I’m hoping that this will last a little while,” Burnett said.  

Several people told ABC News that they took the day off of work for a frantic visit to Costco to buy packs of bottled water. Others were doing last-minute loads of laundry hoping their clean clothes will last at least 5 days, maybe longer.  A few people were giving their plants and lawns one last drink.  

Stephen Joyce, who went door-to-door notifying neighbors of the water shutdown, said neighbors have been caught off guard.

“At least 70 percent of people I checked with had no idea this was happening,” he said.  “When we went to Costco to fill up with water they’ve got two emergency semi-trucks coming in. They’re running out of water as fast as people are pulling it off the shelves.”

Joyce and his wife, Rosie, have a new rule in their house: “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down,” he said of his plan to conserve water.

Tomminetta Stamp, an unemployed mother of three, has told her children they cannot use the enticing inflatable swimming pool sitting under the car park.

“Not today, won’t be for swimming!” she said. “We’ll have to make the best of it and use it to flush toilets. You know with little kids you can’t just let it sit there.”

On the other side of the neighborhood, retiree Eric Marrow, was inside his upstairs bathroom filling a tub -- and hoping the plug would hold the water in for a few days.

“Need to keep the water and the only place to keep water is in the tub and sink,” he said. This is, “very strange, very strange, especially with the heat and everything” to be doing this.

Andrews Air Force Base has also issued a public statement on how the base plans to handle the upcoming water shortage.  Starting Tuesday night at 9 p.m., the base shifted to “mission essential operations.” Planes will continue to fly out of Andrews, and support residents in the dormitories on base and the housing areas, but officials say the medical center on base will be open for emergence care only, and the commissary and exchange will be closed.

Air Force civil engineers will bring in portable toilets and water buffaloes as well as other back up water capabilities to support the operations that will continue.

Joint Base Andrews commander Col. Bill Knight issued statement about the water shortage to Andrews residents and employees, encouraging them to conserve water, fill up tubs and make sure they have other portable water solutions, as they expect the situation to continue for at least two to  three days, and to remember that people may have neighbors and friends that will need help.  

"We ask you to look out for one another. If you have friends or coworkers in the affected area, and this affected area does go far out of Joint Base Andrews, but it does include all of Joint Base Andrews, we would ask you to reach out to them and take care of them," said Knight.

He also encouraged residents and employees to check the base’s FaceBook page and twitter account for the latest updates. Finally Knight suggests there is an upside to not having to go to work: sight-seeing.

"If you live here I think tomorrow would be a great day to get out and go see Washington D.C. while this affects a lot of people in our area, there’s a lot of Washington D.C. that is not affected and we encourage you to get out and go see some of the great things that there are to see in our nation’s capital," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio