Authorities on Tuesday morning evacuated a few hundred people from the Stanislaus County Courthouse in downtown Modesto after a sewer main became clogged.
Sewage water spilled into the courthouse hallways and flooded portions of the building’s basement floor. Court Executive Officer Rebecca Fleming said a buildup of solid debris in the sewer main, presumably over a long period of time, created the problem.
With standing sewage water in public hallways, court officials evacuated everyone from the building on 11th and I streets. Containing the water was difficult. “Frankly, (it) was going faster than we could keep up with,” Fleming said.
One crew repaired the clogged main while another was called in to clean up the spillage. Officials inspected the flooding on the basement floor and found that one bathroom wall might have sustained minor water damage.
Fleming said all areas of the building, including the bathrooms, were reopened Tuesday afternoon as expected. All court proceedings put on hold because of the clogged sewer had resumed by 1:30 p.m.
Authorities became aware of the sewage water problem about 10:30 a.m. A defense attorney said he spotted a lot of water spilling out of one of the first-floor bathrooms.
The judges were told to head into chambers, and inmates waiting for court hearings were sent to secure locations. Court hearings came to a stop. At least one murder trial was about to resume with testimony Tuesday morning when the courthouse was evacuated.
The evacuation appeared to have moved smoothly, with nearly everyone out of the building within 30 minutes. Many lingered outside the building for about 15 minutes before court bailiffs made it clear the building would not reopen until 1 p.m.
The courthouse has been evacuated before in recent years. In August 2009, it was emptied for about an hour after staff detected a suspicious smell. It later was determined that a chlorine-based cleaning product that went into the ventilation system likely caused the odor.
In January 2011, sheriff’s officials sealed off a portion of the courthouse after a suspicious bag was spotted under a stairwell outside the I Street entrance. Employees still working inside that afternoon were moved outside a potential blast radius until being allowed to go home through other exits. The bomb squad later determined that it was just a bag filled with garbage.
The county is set to get a new courthouse in downtown Modesto, but the start of construction is years away. State court officials plan to build a $277 million, 26-courtroom complex that’s expected to be finished by mid-2019.