Along Lake Susan and Chanhassen Hills drives, residents learned that something was terribly wrong in their homes Wednesday night when a geyser of sewage began spewing from toilets on the lower levels.

For Amy Powell and her husband, Carlos Puig, the ensuing mess, caused by a broken water main, ruined the last chapter of a seven-year remodeling effort. As much as 3 inches of sewage had covered the floor of their split-level home. On Thursday, rolls of ruined carpet were heaped in the snow next to their driveway.

It was much worse across the street at Shari Hoeft's house. Her driveway sported a big blue dumpster, and it was filling up fast as clean-up crews tore apart her previously finished basement. Their tracking in and out all morning had them on their second set of tarps stretching from the front door to the basement steps.

The night before, Hoeft heard a rushing sound, opened her basement door and looked down the stairs to "3 feet of poop" on the floor, she said. Two of her three daughters had their bedrooms down there and lost many of their belongings.

By the time Chanhassen officials got the water shut off and assessed the damage, about 18 homes in the neighborhood had suffered flooded basements. An 8-inch water main had ruptured, sending thousands of gallons of water gushing into sewer lines and causing the backups.

Paul Oehme, city engineer and public works director, said it's highly unusual for a water main break to flood sewer lines.

Crews found the cause: "Soil in that area moved and cracked the pipe and that made the rupture," he said. The water main was repaired, the hole backfilled, and water restored to about 30 homes early Thursday afternoon, Oehme said.

Earlier, Hoeft, in her kitchen with her mother, Norma, pointed to a TV set, a 2009 Chaska High School yearbook and some children's photos on the floor, salvaged from the basement. Eventually it became pointless to grab more, she said.

On the kitchen table sat a credit card from the Red Cross, an option to buy clothes for her girls. A local social help agency provided a $30 grocery card and sought to find new beds for the girls.

"My kids are just making it through with me," said Hoeft, describing struggles with a difficult divorce that have her in bankruptcy and the house in foreclosure. Things had improved recently, she said, as she started a new job and planned to take next week's first check to rent a townhome.

Now, she says, the house is uninhabitable. The water heater went out. Moisture under the furnace has made it unsafe. Any relief from homeowner's insurance will go to the mortgage company, she said. "I have to move this weekend."

Some of the damaged homes have finished basements, and some do not, Oehme said.

Powell and Puig were waiting to hear from their insurance company after clean-up crews left. Sheetrock and insulation near the floor will need replacing, along with the carpet. Big fans helped dry the lower level as newly purchased sofas were packed together.

Their daughter's basement bedroom was similarly stripped down by clean-up crews. Homework she had been doing when the mess started disappeared in the aftermath. Powell wrote her teachers a note of explanation.

"It just takes a minute to make a huge mess," Puig said. "What can do you?"

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388 Paul Klauda • 612-673-7280