Sunset Boulevard still closed after water main break near UCLA

LOS ANGELES - Utility crews struggled Wednesday to completely stop the flow of leaking water near a 30-inch riveted-steel pipe that ruptured north of the UCLA campus, sending 20 millions of gallons cascading onto the campus, and Department of Water and Power officials said it could take days to get Sunset Boulevard reopened.

The 93-year-old water main, which carries water to the area from the Upper Stone Canyon Reservoir, ruptured on Sunset near Marymount Place just north of the campus shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, sending a geyser through Sunset and turning streets into rivers and portions of the UCLA campus into oceans of water and mud.

The gusher opened a roughly 20-foot-wide sinkhole in Sunset Boulevard. DWP crews were dispatched to the scene, but due to the flooding and resulting traffic snarls, they didn't reach the area until nearly 5 p.m., when they began to slowly shut off the 75,000-gallon-per-minute flow of water. That process ended around 8 p.m.

But as of mid-afternoon, DWP officials said they still had not been able to completely stop water from leaking in the breakage area, and thus repair work had not even begun.

The problem involves a Y-shaped juncture of the 30-inch main with a 36-inch main, and at least two valves were still leaking east of the site of the break, Jeff Bray of the DWP said. Repairs cannot be made until the water flow is stopped, and officials said the repair work will be "complex."

DWP officials said the valves were about 95 percent closed, but crews couldn't get them fully closed.

"Some of the problems that we've had, just like the pipe is 90-plus years old, the valves that shut off the pipe are also 90-plus years old. They don't always work as they're intended to," according to Jim McDaniel, senior assistant general manager for DWP's water system. "So this is something that our crews are trained for. We have to go in and we have a number of techniques we use to get stuck valves closed. So right now we're working on getting all the valves shut down."

If those efforts fail, McDaniel said crews will insert an inflatable plug into the pipe to cut off the water flow.

"Once we have that done we can move in and we'll as quickly as possible get going on the actual repairs," he said.

McDaniel said that as of mid-afternoon, about 1,000 gallons of water per minute were still leaking from the ruptured main.

DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards estimated that it would be another 48 hours minimum before the repair work is completed, meaning Sunset Boulevard would likely remain closed between Veteran and Hilgard avenues until at least Friday.

"We promise you we will be here 24 hours a day until we get this site repaired," Edwards said.

Authorities suggested using Wilshire, Santa Monica and Olympic boulevards as alternate routes, and encouraged motorists to carpool or telecommute.

The UCLA campus was open and summer classes were held, Chancellor Gene D. Block said. However, UCLA summer camps and the Fernald and Krieger childcare centers were closed, as were parking structures four and seven, which suffered severe flooding.

No water service was interrupted to customers, and the water is safe to drink, according to the DWP.

UCLA Vice Chancellor Kelly Schmader initially said 739 vehicles were stuck in the flooded parking structures, and nearly half of them were completely submerged, with the rest suffered varying levels of water damage. UCLA officials later estimated that as many as 900 vehicles may be in the flooded garages, and it was likely to be Friday until the vehicles could be towed out.

No injuries were reported, but a Los Angeles Fire Department swift-water team helped about five people out of the affected two underground garages, including some people who tried to retrieve their cars. People who have vehicles parked in the structures were encouraged to visit UCLA's transportation website, transportation.ucla.edu, for status reports and information on how they can recover their vehicles.

Despite fire crews and university workers piling sandbags in front of entrances to UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, its floor and locker rooms "sustained significant flooding," Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said.

Schmader said about 8 to 10 inches of water had covered the basketball court, which was being used for volleyball practice when the flooding began.

He said the wooden floor was showing signs of "buckling" and expansion. While a decision was still pending on whether the floor could be repaired or will be replaced, Guerrero said in a message sent to UCLA fans that the arena would be "ready for our men's and women's basketball teams this upcoming season."

The UCLA men's basketball team is scheduled to play an exhibition game at Pauley Pavilion on Oct. 31, with the regular season home-opener scheduled for Nov. 14. Pauley Pavilion recently underwent a $136 million renovation.

Guerrero said the building itself did not suffer any structural damage.

Mud and water also covered the university's Drake Stadium -- a track-and-field facility -- along with the adjacent intramural athletic field.

According to the university, flooding also affected the J.D. Morgan Center, which houses athletic staff and administration offices; the George Kneller Academic Center; the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame; Acosta Center; Gifford Golf Practice Facility; and the John Wooden Center.

According to the mayor's office, the water line that ruptures dates back to 1921.

Officials at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center said hospital operations were not affected by the break.

Although damage estimates on the UCLA campus were still being compiled, questions were already being raised about who would be financially responsible. A university spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the DWP will have to cover the costs, since it was a city pipeline that burst, not a UCLA line.

McDaniel responded that the utility has "a claim process, and we've been working closely with the UCLA folks to follow through on our normal process."

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