‘Just pray to God I get it fixed’: Sewage backups plague 88-year-old Petersburg woman

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 7:27 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - An 88-year-old woman living in Petersburg has been plagued by sewage backups for the past several months.

She’s dealt with a steady drip from a clogged sewer line, pushing raw sewage and wastewater back into the home. It has filled the tub, the toilet and even overflows into the washing machine and other plumbing outlets.

“It’s devastating,” Bertha Moss said.

Moss has been forced to use a bedside commode whenever the sewer line clogs.

“It’s dripping. I can’t flush the toilet...because it goes directly into the tub,” she said. The problems have been a recurring source of frustration and fear for her.

“I’m afraid I might fall…I can’t take a shower at all...I just take a sponge bath,” Bertha said.

Her son, Wendell, says the third time was the worst since the sewer backups started in January.

“A lot of mopping, a lot of towels, a lot of rags,” Wendell said. “Feces in the tub has risen all the way up to the tub, overflowed into the floor. I have to take my mother out of the residence.”

He believes his mother’s home is now contaminated with harmful bacteria. But right now, stopping these backups from happening is the top priority.

A plumbing company he hired traced the blockage that time to 70 feet away from his mother’s property. But the City of Petersburg says the homeowner is responsible for repairs.

“The city is telling me that something that’s in the middle of the street is my problem…I’m not allowed to dig up the street so, you need to correct the problem,” Wendell said. Petersburg utilities say they’ve met twice with Wendell before 12 On Your Side got involved, but they agreed to come out a third time with Investigator Diane Walker. This time bringing a full crew, complete with video equipment, the GM of Utilities and the Deputy City Manager.

“This team stands ready. They’ve got all the technical knowledge. They’ve got all the staff to address any future concerns you may have,” Petersburg Deputy City Manager Lionel Lyons said.

The crew flushed a green dye tab down the commode to see inside the sewer pipe that carries wastewater from the home, and surprisingly in minutes, the obstruction was gone.

“So, the problem’s fixed?” Walker asked General Manager of Utilities Andrew Barnes.

“Well, we can’t say that it’s fixed, but at this moment, there is sewage going from this house to the sewer main,” Barnes said.

That clear line only lasted about a week. The 88-year-old is dealing with yet another sewer backup.

“You don’t understand. It’s devastating. It really is,” Bertha said. Petersburg points Bertha to the city code. If the blockage is under the street, the homeowner is responsible unless they hire the city to install new PVC piping to replace the rusty lateral that has grooves that can collect and hold debris. Bertha isn’t the only one hit with sewer backups and expensive repairs.

“So, someone on this block has had a problem before?” Walker asked Barnes.

“Yes, and they paid the city to come in and establish a new connection into the sewer main. Going forward the city takes responsibility for the part of the lateral between the property line and the city sewer,” Barnes said.

A new connection to the city’s mainline costs between $2,000 to $2,000. Money Bertha doesn’t have.

“We understand it’s a lot of money, but it also includes permanent maintenance going forward for any portion that’s in the street,” Barnes said.

“Just pray to God I get it fixed,” Bertha said.

Walker is still speaking with Petersburg City officials, trying to get help for Bertha and looking into how many other residents are having the same problem with the city’s aging infrastructure.

In the meantime, if you can help Bertha, let us know by sending an email to investigators@nbc12.com.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

Submit a news tip.