Sewage spews into U.S. Virgin Islands harbor

/ Source: The Associated Press

A pipe break has sent millions of gallons of raw sewage spewing into Christiansted Harbor and near a residential area in the U.S. Virgin Islands, officials said Friday.

Officials warned people to stay off a mile-long stretch of beach and out of the water in the north side of the island of St. Croix.

"There was a river of sewage going all down past the housing project there and down to the beach. It was a mess," said Aaron Hutchins, an environmental expert with the U.S. Caribbean territory's Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

The break, discovered Thursday, forced officials to reroute the wastewater through an emergency bypass line outside of Christiansted Harbor, said Stella Saunders, a public works spokeswoman. Repairs were expected to be completed Monday.

Officials didn't say why the pipe broke, but they have estimated that nearly 10 percent of the sewage pipes in St. Croix were likely to break and needed to be replaced.

The pipe that broke usually transports 1.2 million gallons of wastewater a day.

Since 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined the territory's government more than $2.7 million for not being in compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act because it failed to meet repair deadlines, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has been in federal court since 1984, when U.S. officials first cited the territory for having inadequate treatment plants.