Published June 28, 2019

MELROSE — Four homes were deemed uninhabitable after a serious mishap Thursday morning, June 20, on Brazil Street caused raw sewage to back up and come spewing from residents’ toilets, covering floors and walls.

Around 10:30 a.m. police were asked to help the DPW with a broken sewer line in which a crew had been dealing with a clog. Whether the line actually broke and how raw sewage got into the four residences are among many questions the city is working to get answered.

Whatever the answers will be won’t much help Silvana Ortiz, one of those residents affected and the most vocally outraged. The newlywed and four-year resident of the street said in a published report that “The city is now claiming that they are not at fault and will not cover any damages…It’s truly devastating that a city like Melrose would treat its homeowners/renters this way. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Ortiz and her family stayed at a hotel and had to board several dogs. Ortiz said city workers initially admitted responsibility, and culpability, but then other city officials would not go that far.

Cleanup costs are not yet known, but will be in the tens of thousands of dollars at least.

This week, Mayor Gail Infurna’s office worked to get more positive word out to the public after the incident drew all manner of news coverage over the weekend.

This is part of a statement released Wednesday:

“‘The residents of Brazil Street are our first priority,’ said Mayor Gail Infurna. ‘We have made arrangements to house them until the Building Inspector and Health Director determine that it is safe for them to return home. We have also expedited our city insurance claim process in order to get that piece moving as quickly as possible.

“‘As previously stated, we have brought in an outside vendor to inspect the sewer pipe and take any actions necessary to ensure that this does not happen again,’ Mayor Infurna continued. ‘We are dealing with a complicated and aging infrastructure. Sewer blockages are not uncommon, but they usually are relatively minor events. Unfortunately, several factors associated with this blockage resulted in an unusual amount of serious property damage.’

“On Thursday, June 20, the Department of Public Works was called to Brazil Street about a potential water issue. A DPW crew responded immediately and began the process of checking the area manholes to determine where the problem was. Once the area of the blockage was determined, equipment was brought in to address the situation. Following the department’s normal protocol, DPW staff used a hose and high-pressure water to break up the clog. However, because of an unusual set of circumstances, sewerage surcharged back into four properties on Brazil Street. The City is conducting an independent review by an outside engineering firm to determine possible causes for this blockage and the ensuing surcharges.

“DPW also brought in an outside vendor who performed a video inspection of the line to examine the structural integrity of the pipe, to aid in the restoration of the integrity of the pipe going forward, and to ensure that other properties were not going to be impacted. At the same time, the DPW Operations Manager and emergency officials proceeded to try to locate residents who were not home and, working with the Melrose Police Department, entered properties to gain access to affected areas in an effort to identify and minimize damage.

“Restoration companies arrived on site to review and begin remediating the damage. These companies began to work directly with the occupants of the four impacted properties. Early Friday morning, the Building Inspector, Health Director, and a health inspector met with residents to assess the damage and deemed the properties uninhabitable. They also provided guidance on next steps and will be in communication with the homeowners and tenants throughout this process.

“Unfortunately, the damage to the homes involved is extensive and could take days or weeks to repair. City officials will continue to monitor the situation and will remain in contact with the impacted residents. At this time, the cause of this blockage and the ensuing damage remains under investigation,” the mayor’s release concludes.

Ward 5 Alderman Shawn MacMaster doesn’t live far from the affected area, which he represents.

Last Friday, June 21, after the sewer backup, he issued this:

“The last two days have been a difficult and trying time for those who reside on Brazil Street, particularly the individuals and families who were directly impacted by yesterday’s sewer backup.

“As the Ward Alderman and a Brazil Street resident, I am well aware of the significant trauma and property loss suffered by many of my neighbors. I have personally visited the homes affected, witnessed the damage first hand, and provided what assistance I can.

“Although I have serious concerns and questions about what occurred leading up to this event and in the immediate aftermath, my primary focus now is to be a support system, resource, and advocate for the neighborhood. Over the last 30 hours, I have been in continual contact with the Mayor’s Office, the City Solicitor, the Superintendent of Public Works, and the Chief of Police. I have also communicated with residents on scene, over the telephone, and through email.

“This will be a long road, and I am grateful for the support the community has shown so far. In the days and weeks ahead, I will continue to work closely with the Administration to ensure that the neighborhood remains well-informed and that residents receive the emergency assistance and support services that they need and deserve. That work is underway and will be ongoing.

“There will be a time in the future to address the larger concerns that I have as an Alderman, but right now it is important for all of Melrose to remain united in our support for the Brazil Street residents.

“Finally, I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to my colleagues in local and state government who have reached out to me to offer support, assistance, and words of encouragement,” MacMaster wrote.

He also said in another statement that “People have been known to capitalize on personal loss by exploiting individuals who are willing to help. Residents in Melrose and beyond should be skeptical of persons who may try to solicit donations for the victims of the Brazil Street sewer backup. Donations to assist impacted residents can be directed to the City’s Emergency Fund administered by the Mayor’s Office. If you have been contacted by anyone soliciting donations or have questions or concerns about the validity of a purported charitable organization, please notify the Melrose Police Department at 781-665-1212, or 781-665-TIPS (8477), or at”