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Ugly sight awaits flooded cars' owners at UCLA stadium lot

"Oh, it smells! You want your sunglasses?" -- Owners salvage what they can from flood-wrecked cars at UCLA
"It's pretty clear that these cars are not going to be drivable ever again," UCLA spokesman says after flood
Owners of cars destroyed by a huge water line break at UCLA try to salvage what they can of the contents

They came in all makes and models — old and new, red, black and phantom gray.

They had names: "Zippy," "the Philly Mobile."

And they carried memories — of trips to Disneyland, the beach and big moves to Los Angeles.

But on Tuesday, in an obscure baseball stadium parking lot just west of the 405 Freeway, almost all of the 340 mud-covered cars lined up next to one another had at least one thing in common.

"It's pretty clear that these cars are not going to be drivable ever again," UCLA spokesman Tod Tamberg said. "These cars are finished."

In sharp contrast to the jubilant relief Friday at UCLA Lot 36, Tuesday's scene was one of disappointment and anxiety. Rather than driving triumphantly off the lot in unharmed cars, the students, staff and campus visitors assembled at Jackie Robinson Stadium could only stare, smell and wait.

University and insurance officials said they expected almost all of the cars — flooded by last week's catastrophic DWP water pipeline break — to be deemed total losses. Owners had their first chance to see their property in person Tuesday, and what they saw as they pulled onto Constitution Avenue wasn't pretty.

Most cars were caked with dirt and debris over the hood and up to the windows. Some vehicles had a white layer of paint from the garage ceiling plastered onto their roofs. A few had their windows down and their trunks popped open.

"It feels like Costa Rica," Kyle Hasenstab, 27, said as he cracked open the door to his Toyota Yaris.

"Oh, it smells!" his wife, Susan, said, before asking, "You want your sunglasses?"

The cars towed to the baseball field were deemed the most damaged of the more than 900 that officials estimate were parked in lots 4 and 7. The two parking structures were flooded when a trunk line ruptured on Sunset Boulevard, sending more than 20 million gallons of water cascading onto UCLA's campus and nearby streets.

After a lengthy closure, the stretch of Sunset near the university was reopened Monday. On Tuesday, Department of Water and Power Senior Assistant General Manager Jim McDaniel told the board overseeing the department that the pipe that had ruptured showed extensive corrosion both inside and out and had been welded with a technique no longer in use.

Spokesman Joe Ramallo said "the LADWP has accepted responsibility for the event and ... will evaluate claims for damages and will pay for documented, necessary and reasonable losses."

Adjusters from the department and multiple insurance agencies were on scene assisting vehicle owners with claims.

A claims adjuster inspected Eugene Acosta's Honda Pilot as the 39-year-old UCLA staffer gingerly slipped on plastic gloves and placed damp jumper cables, a CD case, a stroller and an anti-theft device onto the asphalt.

Acosta came armed with a camera and a spreadsheet listing dozens of his personal effects and their costs.

"You spend hard-earned money for your stuff," he said. "For a freak accident like this you want to make sure everything is properly replaced."

The father of two said that immediately after the flood started, he tried to retrieve his SUV from Parking Lot 4 but was knee-deep in water about 15 feet from the vehicle when fire personnel shooed him away. That night, he said, he saw a photo showing a nearby car submerged in window-high water and told a friend: "I just want to cry."

But by Tuesday, Acosta was busy detailing the damage, stewing over whether he'd get fair market value for his family's trusty vehicle.

When it was all over, the adjuster told Acosta he was being transferred to a different representative with the total-loss unit. And he could say goodbye to the car: It would be towed away for the last time soon.

"I actually got a day off so today I need another distraction," Acosta said as his boys squirmed at his side. "We're going to the zoo."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattStevensLAT

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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