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September 21, 2014

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Portland lifts city-wide boil order

PORTLAND, Ore. — Merrick Monroe popped the tab on a Pabst Blue Ribbon, giggled and took a swig.

If Portland's boil order was going to forbid drinking tap water during Friday's work hours, Monroe pledged to find an alternative. She discovered it in the back room of Bridge City Comics, where she passed an otherwise quiet Friday afternoon as cashier.

"After I got into work, I was texting with my boss and we were joking about stuff, like, what are we gonna drink?" Monroe said. "He said there's plenty of PBR and bottles of water in the back, so, I guess I'm drinking PBR."

On Saturday, the city lifted a 24-hour boil order, the largest in the city's history. The news was welcomed by an array of coffee shops, restaurants and bars that had to close or serve limited menus on Friday evening and Saturday morning.

Tests discovered the presence of the E. coli bacterium in the city water supply over a three-day period beginning Tuesday.

Water customers were told to boil all drinking water for a full minute, avoid getting water in their mouths during showers and throw out anything made with tap water during the previous week.

Two city reservoirs will be drained and cleaned. The city hasn't yet identified the source of the contamination, and the water bureau advised customers to run all taps for two minutes to purge potentially contaminated water.

The boil order set off a rush on any water but tap water. Store shelves cleared of water jugs, bottled water and soda cans.

At the Stash Tea Bar in northeast Portland, manager Devin Kelly said she had to bring in special machinery to bring the tea water to a boil — typically a no-no for specialty tea.

"We typically don't suggest serving tea with boiling water, so we brought in some boiling kettles," Kelly said.

Officials said 670,000 people were affected by the boil-water notice, including some Portland suburbs.

On social media, Portlanders took the boil order with typical aplomb.

Some mockingly photographed shopping carts overflowing with distilled-water jugs. Others turned it into a kind of anti-advertising for the city that has perhaps too much appeal to rootless millennials.

"This is how we live in Portland now," wrote Brandon Doughan, attaching an image of a bottle of water in a puddle. "DO NOT MOVE HERE"

Monroe wasn't alone in her PBR consumption — as with most things Friday (and most things Portland), the city-wide health crisis was ultimately converted into a drinking opportunity.

"All of Portland ordered to boil water?" said food critic and magazine web editor Allison Jones. "I'll take that as citywide permission to get schwasted before noon."

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