OCEAN CITY — Piece by piece the jigsaw puzzle of the water tower on 11th Street fell into itself as its removal began Thursday.

Welding torches sprinkled orange sparks as two workers began the process of disassembling the 125-foot landmark water tower at 11th Street and West Avenue. By 6 p.m., about two-thirds of the tower had been removed. The work will resume this morning and is expected to be complete by about noon.

“It’s a lot quicker to take them down than it is to put them up,” said Peter Eschbach, New Jersey American Water spokesman.

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The tower is surrounded on all sides by buildings or utility poles, and that proximity required a different approach than previous projects, Eschbach said. Rather than bringing down each piece by a crane, the pieces were let fall into the hollow of the tower until it fills up, he said.

The electrical wires can potentially get in the way if they were to use a crane right from the beginning, he said.

Additionally, the roof of the NJAW building sits just under the tower, and the sparks flying off could start a fire. As a precaution, sprinklers attached to hoses sat on the roof to keep it wet, Eschbach explained.

A portion of roadway on West Avenue was blocked off until about 6 p.m. Thursday.

The crews had hoped to finish the work Thursday night but got off to a late start Thursday morning due to a problem with a lift, Eschbach said.

Terry Miller, project manager from Iseler Demolition in Remeo, Mich., said the work will restart at about 7 a.m. today and should be finished by noon. The materials from the tower will be sent to a scrap yard and recycled, he said.

The 460,000-gallon standpipe tower was built in 1925 and had been obsolete for years, serving mainly as a backup in case firefighters needed extra water pressure or capacity. Two other water towers in the city and modern wells now satisfy Ocean City’s water demands.

Still, many residents came by Thursday to say goodbye to the nearly 90-year-old landmark.

“A lot of people were interested in what was going on and asked a lot of questions,” Miller said.

Eschbach said some residents said they used the water tower as a landmark to get home. The water company gave some of the remnants of the tower to the city’s Historical Society so it would be preserved, he said.

David “Reds” Bridgens, owner of Reds Jersey Mex Café, which sits behind the site of the tower, said the pieces of the tower hitting the ground after being dismantled Thursday sounded like thunder, which could be heard at the restaurant every half hour or so.

The owner said he was happy for a change of scenery

“If it stayed up there, we were going to ask someone if we could paint it and put our logo on it,” he joked. “But now, with it gone, we’re going to put up signage so people can see us from West Avenue.”

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