Workers at the Port Richmond Walmart on Sunday, March 27. (Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn)

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Did you survive the “Philadelphia Wooder Wars of 2023”? 

That’s a new shirt by local artist GRIMGRIMGRIM, marking the flood of frenzied Philadelphians who poured into stores Sunday afternoon, most in pursuit of the same thing: water.

The waves of customers came as a result of a Friday night equipment failure at a Bucks County factory, which leaked thousands of gallons of latex emulsion into a creek that flows into the Delaware River — the source for 58% of Philadelphia’s water supply.

As of right now, zero contaminants have been found in Philly tap water, per government officials. But that wasn’t immediately clear.

At a Sunday morning press conference, city officials said residents in the impacted area — basically the eastern two-thirds of Philadelphia — “may wish not to drink or cook with tap water” in the afternoon, since they couldn’t be “100% sure” it didn’t contain unwelcome chemicals. They didn’t expect any risk before 2 p.m., though, officials said.

Later in the afternoon, the city pushed back the cutoff. Philly water and infrastructure officials said they’d calculated it out, and all tap water was okay to drink until at least 11:59 p.m. on Monday. There was “no need to buy water” right now, they said. (The deadline was again pushed back; for up-to-date information, you can check our story here.)

But by then, a rush on bottled water throughout the city had already ensued.

A few hours after the press conference and less than an hour before the initially-announced 2 p.m. cutoff, the city sent an Amber Alert-style emergency notification to mobile devices, “recommend[ing]” use of bottled drinking water.

Residents on the hunt for bottled water piled into stores in and around Philly in the minutes and hours that followed.

Philadelphians packed what they could into their carts and their cars.

Water fills a shopper’s cart at the Port Richmond Walmart on Sunday, March 27. (Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn)
A resident loads water into their car on Sunday afternoon (Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn)

Some people just tried to save as much tap water as they could before 2 p.m. rolled around.

Apparently people were hitting up Amazon too.

Soon enough, many physical stores sold out, some pre-warning customers with signs on their doors or windows.

The sign on a store in Northern Liberties Sunday afternoon. (Asha Prihar/Billy Penn)
A sign on a store in Kensington on Sunday afternoon. (Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn)

The long lines and cleared-out shelves drew plenty of comparisons to early-pandemic times, when everyday necessities like toilet paper sold out at stores.

Many water aisles and displays were left ravaged, from Acme to Costco to Walmart to CVS. (Some stores reportedly restocked their shelves later on.)

Empty water display at the Port Richmond Walmart on Sunday, March 27. (Daisie Cardona for Billy Penn)
The CVS at 4th and Spring Garden’s bottled water shelves on Sunday. (Asha Prihar/Billy Penn)

It’s not totally clear yet what the city’s water supply will look like after 11:59 p.m on Monday and what that might mean for the city. 

But, regarding yesterday, it looks like there’s already a commemorative T-shirt.

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Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...