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Staff photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Cassandra Weakly, 66, and her son John Davis, 49, volunteer with the Chattanooga Police Department during a city-wide water outage on Sunday, September 16, 2019. Weakly and Davis drove from Knoxville to "share a blessing" with struggling Chattanoogans.

Story updated at 8:45 p.m. on Sept. 15 with new information.

The Times Free Press has made this story available to all readers, not just subscribers, as a public service so all Chattanoogans can get the most recent information about the water outage. Please consider supporting this type of local journalism and subscribe to the newspaper here

Chattanooga will largely return to normal Monday after a long weekend without water.

All of the 35,000 Tennessee American Water Co. customers affected by a Thursday night water main break have fully restored service after being down for anywhere between 36-70 hours, but some areas were still under a boil water advisory Sunday night as lab results loomed under an "abundance of caution." The company has consistently said it stayed within state and federal guidelines during the event.

The remaining areas were expected to be released of boil advisories Monday.

At a Sunday afternoon news conference, the company shared a new map of recovery from the event that left thousands of residents in its coverage area with little or no water.

some text Staff Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Local veteran Joshua Kapellusch distributes water to community members in need on Saturday, September 15, 2019, in downtown Chattanooga. Kapellusch began the week of giving back in honor of the Chattanooga Fallen Five, but happened to overlap with a massive water outage in the city.
some text Latest map update. Photo provided by Tennessee American Water Co. and city of Chattanooga.

The map gave the all-clear to most of Chattanooga but maintained a boil advisory for some other higher elevation areas, shaded in yellow on the map, for which water samples are still being assessed. Customers under the advisory were urged to boil all water for consumption for three minutes as a precaution.

Cause and impact unknown

Tennessee American officials have provided no information on the cause of the main break, which occurred just 20 feet from a preventative maintenance project underway on a different pipe.

When asked at each of the company's half-dozen news conferences between Friday morning and Sunday evening, officials said no information was available, or even being sought, until after full water quality is restored.

"Our current emphasis has been on isolation, repair and recovery. We know that a 36-inch pipe broke and released the water, and that is what caused the outage," said Director of Operations Kevin Kruchinski. "But what the root of it was, we'll work through that when the time comes."

Similarly, officials for the company, city and county were unable to provide estimations of financial impact or water lost during the event.

(Read more: Downtown Chattanooga takes economic hit due to water outage) 

Communities pitch in

With the prolonged and widespread water outages came a number of inconveniences for residents, ranging from limited operational businesses to scarce plumbing, but few concerns rivaled that of access to drinkable water.

As agencies — including the Chattanooga Police Department, which distributed more than 300,000 bottles of water over the weekend — sprung into action, the commitment of individuals from Chattanooga and nearby communities helped deliver water and much needed morale.

"I really just felt like it was an opportunity to come down and spread a blessing and help these people who need it, and that's what I am called to do," volunteer Cassandra Weakley said. "We just heard about what was going on and knew we needed to come lend a hand."

Weakley, along with son John Davis, drove from Knoxville "straight after church" on Sunday to aid in water distribution.

"When I was a firefighter in D.C., it was so easy for me to lend a hand, but now I just go where I feel needed," Weakley said, after four hours of distributing water. "We'll be around [Chattanooga] now for a little while and see where else we can make a difference."

For local veteran Joshua Kopellusch, charity began much closer to home.

Kopellusch spent Sept. 6-15 giving back to the Chattanooga community in honor of the "Fallen Five" — the five service members killed in the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks.

"Usually, I drive this flag to the Golden Gate Bridge [in San Francisco] in their honor, but this year, I just thought, instead of going across country, I should just stay here and help their community," Kopellusch said, gesturing to the large American flag mounted on his truck, adorned with painted tributes to the Fallen Five. "So I've been giving out water and food and hygiene bags to those who need it, long before I knew about the water outage."

Kopellusch, along with his two sons — Owen, 7, and Everett, 5 — handed out hundreds of water bottles over the weekend, focusing on the less fortunate. While Kopellusch will do this again, planning a similar delivery with blankets as temperatures drop, this weekend was especially important as regularly available resources suffered from the outage.

"[The less fortunate] usually have to leave [certain public buildings] after close and then have no access to food or water for 12-15 hours," he said. "And this weekend, it's worse because it's even harder to find the water. It's just so important to come out and help the community because we're humans and there are certain things, like water, that we all at least deserve to have."

Water will be available Monday

Though most water distribution sites are closed due to the decreasing need, the city will provide cases of water at the John A. Patten YFD Center, 3202 Kelly's Ferry Road, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., as supplies last or until all remaining areas are lifted from the boil advisory.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.

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