Philly officials to Vine Street swimmers: ‘Stay out of the water’ and ‘get a tetanus shot’

“It’s not something you want to go swimming in, or tubing in, or any of the other things we’ve seen folks do.”

Emma Lee/WHYY

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Like an Eagles fan to a light post, like a dumpster pool to a block party, like a dancing Elmo to a flaming scrapyard, it was only a matter of time before someone jumped into the flooded highway in the middle of Philadelphia.

The Vine Street Expressway remained very much underwater on Friday morning, as crews worked around the clock to pump the standing remnants of Hurricane Ida back out in the Schuylkill River.

While the water levels have gone down, the flooded artery looked like a filthy Venetian canal on Thursday when some Philadelphians took it upon themselves to live up to the city’s reputation for shenanigans.

Photos circulated widely on social media of a man floating in a tube along the expressway, donning a baseball cap and drinking what appears to be a cold beverage. Another video went viral of a man executing a backflip off an overpass into the likely sewage-filled channel below.

The antics did not go unnoticed by city officials, who weighed in during a press conference Friday morning.

“Stay out of the water, stay out of the water, stay out of the mud,” said Adam Thiel, the city’s dual fire commissioner and emergency management director.

More specifically, he added: “It’s not something you want to go swimming in, or tubing in, or any of the other things we’ve seen folks do.”

And, on a cautionary note: “If you did that, I would certainly advise you to go get a tetanus shot, among other things.”

Thiel did not elaborate on the “other things.”

Mayor Jim Kenney also chimed in with a few jabs. “Don’t do stupid stuff,” he quipped, while also suggesting social media was responsible for driving people to do things like this.

Officials offered no timeline Friday for re-opening the arterial downtown highway, a day before the Made In America music festival is expected to draw tens of thousands into the city’s core. The festival will forge ahead, Kenney reaffirmed, flooded highway or not.

Vine Street is a state-managed highway. Steve Lorenz, the chief highway engineer for the Streets Department, said the city is offering assistance to PennDOT and their contractors with the cleanup.

“For a typical recovery and cleanup, you need to scrape the mud and debris off the roadway, and then evaluate the roadway to see if there’s any damage underneath,” Lorenz said. “The inlets need to be cleaned out so future rainstorms and the existing water has some place to drain, and then inspect the existing infrastructure underground.”

In the meantime, officials repeated: stay out of water.

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