MARBLEHEAD — It had had enough.
A house that endured a leaking pipe for many months dialed 911 on Wednesday, finally bringing town officials to the rescue.
The homeowner gone — no one yet knows where — the house likely sprang a leak during a past freeze and began spraying water all over. "Water came down inside the walls and through the ceiling," said Health Director Wayne Attridge. "The (wood) floors have buckled. The ceilings are sagging. It filled the basement with (5 feet of) water."
Worse yet, potentially toxic mold is everywhere. "It's a horrific mess," said Attridge, who said the inside of the structure may have to be gutted.
The 911 call went out to police, apparently, when water short-circuited the phone system. Police recorded it as a 911 hang-up, and when they tried to return the call they got only static. Officers were sent to the location, 31 Rockaway Ave. According to the police log, they determined that something inside was leaking before they requested permission from higher-ups to make a forced entry through the back door.
It was then they saw just how badly this house had suffered.
Firefighters pumped out the basement, and all the utilities were stopped, according to fire Capt. Mike Porter. The bills, meanwhile, were up-to-date.
The address belongs to James Cowen, and it was his childhood home. As of yesterday afternoon, police had located his daughter but not Cowen. His car was in the garage, however.
Cousin William Cowen, reached last night, isn't surprised, and he isn't worried. James, he noted, is in his 60s and often travels. Left financially secure by his late father, he doesn't work, his cousin said.
"I know that he does leave the house from time to time," Cowen said. "As far as I know, he was doing OK."
"Right now," Building Commissioner Bob Ives said, "the house is unfit for human habitation. I don't think anyone would want to go in there because of the level of mold." Hot weather will worsen that problem, he added. And without some kind of quick remediation, "it will have to be gutted."
Restoring the inside, Ives acknowledged, might be so expensive that it would be more cost-effective to simply tear down the structure and build anew. The current two-story, six-room, single-family Colonial was built in 1941 and is currently assessed for $375,000. It has a two-car garage, and Ives described it as relatively small.
Neither Ives nor Attridge had gone inside. Depending on a determination of the damage, Attridge said, the town could require the interior to be gutted.