Residents of South Black Avenue watched in dismay from their muddied front lawns Sunday as cleanup crews, city workers and water-damage companies labored to repair a broken water main and clean up the mess left behind by 4 million gallons of water.

When the pipe burst Saturday evening, the water gushed 4 feet into the air, then rushed like a river downhill toward Main Street, taking with it South Black's gravel roadbed.

"It looked like the Madison (River)," said one of the city workers who responded to the emergency.

City crews worked throughout Saturday night and all day Sunday to stop the steady flow of water. By Sunday afternoon, muddy gravel marked the water's trail all the way to Main Street.

The water burst forth around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when the cap on a 24-inch pipe with a "T" end on it came loose for an unknown reason, Debbie Arkell, Bozeman's public works director, said Sunday.

Crews dug a hole to get to the pipe. The first order of business was replacing the cap, Arkell said.

Unfortunately, once the cap was back in place, the "T" itself cracked, spewing even more water.

Residents in the area were without tap water until about 4 p.m. Sunday. They were also without electricity for a while on Saturday after the water knocked down a nearby tree, light pole and power line. A NorthWestern Energy crew stabilized the line and power was back on within a few hours.

Most of the immediately evident water damage was in the crawl spaces and low-lying rooms of homes along South Black.

Resident Steve Juroszek, 918 S. Black, and his wife were at church when the water main burst. They had to wait for more than 30 minutes to cross the river of water to their home due to the downed power line.

They returned to a yard flooded knee-deep in places. Despite sandbags and an earthen dyke built by the city, their garage, office and two other rooms were water damaged.

"We've got no curbs or gutters, so the water just flowed right in," Juroszek said Sunday as he hauled damaged furniture, carpeting and other belongings outside into the sun.

"I've got to pull out carpeting, drywall and wood paneling. It's going to take us a couple weeks to get things back to normal," he said.

Shirley Gerhardt, the first person to call 911 on Saturday, said she felt lucky her home at 1006 S. Black didn't have more damage than it did.

"I had to pump out the crawl space and put in big fans, but I feel fortunate considering how much water came out," she said. "The hole was shooting a big, wide, dirty geyser 4 feet high."

City officials also stressed that although the burst main added sediment to the public drinking-water supply, making it murky, the chlorine used to treat the water means it is still safe to drink.

"When you get that much water moving so quickly it tends to stir things up," Bozeman City Manager Chris Kukulski said Sunday. "But we want people to know it is still safe to use."

However, Kukulski reiterated that people should refrain from using city water for outside uses such as washing cars or watering gardens. The broken main drained a lot of water, he said, nearly as much as the 4.8 million gallons city firefighters needed to extinguish the fire on East Main Street following the March 2009 natural-gas explosion.

"With all that lost water, we need to get the tanks filled up so we have a full reserve again," said Kukulski.

Jolene Keller can be reached at citydesk@dailychronicle.com