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UCLA water main break expected to challenge L.A. commuters

Commuters advised to avoid Sunset Blvd. near UCLA on Wednesday after massive flooding

Commuters were advised to avoid Sunset Boulevard near UCLA on Wednesday morning as crews work to clean, repair and assess the damage after a water line break spewed millions of gallons of water.

The flooding was caused by a break in a 30-inch water main, which burst about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, sending up to 10 million gallons of water onto parts of UCLA and Sunset Boulevard, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Crews were expected to work throughout the day Wednesday to repair the broken high-pressure main, complicating the morning rush-hour commute for scores of drivers.

“There's almost no chance that any portion of Sunset around UCLA will be open," Councilman Paul Koretz said at a news conference Tuesday night.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said drivers should consider using Olympic and Santa Monica boulevards as alternate routes.

"People should avoid the area unless absolutely necessary," Garcetti said in a statement.

The 90-year-old water main ruptured shortly before 3:30 p.m. in the 10600 block of Sunset Boulevard, fire officials said.

The water flooded the campus from a 15-foot-wide hole on Sunset, a short distance from UCLA. At one point, the geyser spewed water as high as 30 feet into the air, officials said.

Firefighters helped five people escape two underground parking garages that were flooded with torrents of water. Firefighters searched about 200 cars but found no other victims, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman said.

An LAFD swift-water rescue team with four inflatable boats was at the scene, standing by in case people were stranded.

Nearly 3 feet in diameter, the ruptured high-pressure water main delivers 75,000 gallons a minute to the area.

Water also found its way into several campus buildings, including the recently renovated Pauley Pavilion. The extent of the damage was unknown Tuesday night.

The failure of the aging, steel-riveted water main was another black eye for the DWP. Five years ago, the city suffered a plague of 101 major breaks in the summer and fall, as water repeatedly burst through the aging network of corroded old cast-iron pipes.

Jim McDaniel, a DWP senior assistant general manager, said Tuesday night that crews had to battle rush-hour traffic to get to the scene on Sunset. Once there, he added, the crews had to figure out which valves needed to be closed.

"We had to do research to get to the correct valve," McDaniel said. Closing the wrong valves, he said, would have left people without water.

The water and mud that flooded UCLA left campus officials with a daunting cleanup task.

“Unfortunately, UCLA was the sink for this water source,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Of the damage to Pauley Pavilion, he said, “It’s painful.”

The campus will remain open Wednesday, university officials said.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and the Southland, follow @Caitlin__Owens, or email her at caitlin.owens@latimes.com.

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