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Pipe Breaks, Floods Coast Highway : Disruption: The route is closed to traffic until Saturday as crews work to patch up the gash in Corona del Mar.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At first glance, Gayle Hanson didn’t think much of the puddle of muddy water in the driveway of the Integrity 714 Salon. Little did she know that by dawn Thursday, that puddle would engulf East Coast Highway, forcing northbound lanes to be shut down to traffic until at least Saturday.

As she stood in front of the beauty parlor Wednesday night, the puddle grew ankle deep and kept growing. Small fountains of water spewed through cracks in the sidewalk, and soon the intersection of Coast Highway and Goldenrod Avenue was under water.

“It was really eerie looking,” said Hanson, a makeup artist and facial technician at the beauty parlor. “They were like little fountains shooting up everywhere. It looked like Yellowstone Park.”

What Hanson witnessed was a major break in a 30-inch-wide pipe that feeds drinking water into the El Moro Canyon reservoir, officials said. And what it caused was a coastal traffic jam that frustrated thousands of commuters from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach.

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“It caused a tremendous backup,” Laguna Beach Sgt. Bob Rahauser said, particularly along Laguna Canyon Road, where thousands of diverted motorists snarled the heavily traveled road for miles.

Today’s commute was expected to be more of the same. Northbound Coast Highway through Corona del Mar probably will not reopen before Saturday morning, Caltrans spokesman Steve Seville said. The route is a major thoroughfare leading to some of the county’s most popular beaches.

And although Newport Beach police have mapped out an alternative route for motorists, “it would be best if they avoid it altogether” until Coast Highway reopens, Seville said.

The huge water pipe, weakened by rust, burst about 10 p.m. Wednesday. That night and all day Thursday, emergency crews from the state Department of Transportation and the Laguna Beach County Water District worked feverishly to patch up the gash in the pipe and fill a gaping 30-foot-wide hole in the street before the evening commute started.

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Paul Trimble, water district superintendent, said the project was estimated to cost the agency as much as $80,000.

“We’re doing what we can to plug it up,” Trimble said Thursday morning as he watched workers crawling in and out of the deep hole in the street. “The main thing is to get the road open.”

No residential customers lost water service because of the break, officials said, but a construction crew at the Newport Coast development was without grading water on Thursday.

The break in the 65-year-old pipe seemed to be inevitable. The water main, scheduled to be replaced in January, is rife with weak spots, Trimble said. Static electricity generated by the movement of water through the pipe over the years has corroded the steel water main, he said.

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As much as 150,000 gallons of water may have escaped into the earth below the street before the water district could shut off the flow, Trimble said.

Joseph Sovella, general manager for the water district, said that water from a 42-inch-wide line that runs under Laguna Canyon Road was diverted to the 10-million-gallon El Moro Canyon reservoir to make sure it is not seriously depleted.

For people such as Hanson and others who were there when the pipeline broke, it was a scene they will not quickly forget.

Hanson said that she had stopped at the beauty parlor to do some work about 10 p.m. and that everything seemed normal. But by the time she parked her car and walked to the front door, the puddle was already begining to dump fresh mud into a small flower garden 2 feet above street level.

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The water continued to rise at a rapid pace. By the time she called the Newport Beach Fire Department, the water level was as high as the undercarriages of passing cars.

“It was bubbling up everywhere,” she said. Newport Beach police then blocked the street while work crews dug a 30-foot-wide hole to expose the damaged pipe.

When the morning commute began, police motorcycle units rerouted northbound traffic from Marguerite Avenue to San Joaquin Hills Road and eventually to MacArthur Boulevard, Police Sgt. Andy Gonis said.

Traffic was not backed up significantly in Newport Beach, Gonis said. But thanks to a Caltrans sign that warned commuters in Laguna Beach not to travel north, traffic in that city was a nightmare. Laguna Canyon Road was backed up from the El Toro Road intersection west to Coast Highway.

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As work crews slogged around the mud Thursday morning, Hanson’s boss, Glenna Dee, worriedly checked the beauty parlor’s foundation for cracks. The driveway into her shop had buckled from the movement of mud and dirt underneath.

“My flowers are ruined,” she said, adding that the break is the latest in a string of disruptions she has experienced since she opened Integrity 714 two months ago.

Most of her Thursday morning customers were either an hour late or had missed their appointments altogether.

Trying to make the best of it, however, Dee posed for a Polaroid shot standing in front of the giant hole, holding a shovel.

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“Never a dull moment around here,” she said.


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