A torrent of water carrying parked cars and massive chunks of asphalt roared down a stretch of Coldwater Canyon Avenue early Saturday after one of the city's largest water mains burst.
No one was injured when the 62-inch, underground pipe ruptured about 8 a.m., leaving a 30-foot-wide crater, up to 20 feet deep, in the street. For hours, a geyser of city water shot several feet into the air in the middle of the upscale neighborhood along the 4000 block of Coldwater Canyon.
The water supply to the pipe was shut off by noon, according to Department of Water and Power officials, but water continued to gush out of the pipe until it was finally drained about 3 p.m.
The pipe spewed forth between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons per minute, according to Gary A. Jenkins, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman. In all, DWP officials said, several hundred thousand gallons were lost.
About 24 homes were evacuated by fire officials who feared that a gas line that burst under the pressure of the water might ignite.
"The water minimized the threat of a real hazard," Jenkins said, "but we could smell the gas, so we moved people out."
DWP and Southern California Gas Co. workers were on the scene Saturday night to try to restore service to several hundred homes in the area. Coldwater Canyon remained closed from Ventura Boulevard to Halkirk Street and a Department of Transportation official said it might not reopen until at least Sunday evening. A four-block section of Ventura Boulevard closed during the flood was reopened Saturday afternoon.
DWP officials said the rupture was probably caused by corrosion of the pipe, which was installed in 1918. "Corrosion is something that usually happens over the years," said Robert L. Simmons, a DWP assistant engineer. "This can be expected."
Property damage from the rupture and flood appeared to be limited to water-logged lawns and some minor damage to homes.
"I come home, and all of a sudden we've got riverfront property," said Steve Christenson, who had gone on an early morning errand and returned to find the entrance to his home submerged.
"There were no police or anything. I just got stopped because of the water."
Christenson and his wife, Virginia, were among an estimated 75 people told to evacuate by fire officials. "We're without power, water and gas for an indefinite period," said Virginia Christenson, surveying the inches-deep stream rushing past the couple's front lawn. "But we're safe."
The torrent also made travel tough for those headed to the homecoming football game at nearby Harvard-Westlake School, which is just south of where the water was spewing forth like an urban geyser.
But not everyone minded that.
"This is cool. I like it." said Harvard-Westlake student Amanda Countner, 14, as she plotted a strategy for crossing the tributary with a classmate. "But it's kind of a pain because there's no way to get across the street."
Barbara Warwick, also a student, braved the ankle-deep water barefoot, with her skirt gathered up around her knees.
"I just decided to walk," she said. "It's an inconvenience and a waste of water, but it's actually kind of nice."
The pipe normally carries water from a DWP facility in Sylmar across the San Fernando Valley before being pumped over the Santa Monica Mountains. There, the water is fed into a grid system of pipes that supply Franklin Canyon, Stone Canyon and Hollywood reservoirs.
Officials said the accident was similar to one in which a 3-foot pipe burst under Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks in 1991, sending an instant river down the thoroughfare and into some stores.
"It's similar in that it's a main trunk line," said DWP spokeswoman Debra Sass, "and in that this was probably caused by corrosion."
More than a $1 million in claims were filed against the city for businesses, autos and apartment buildings damaged when that steel pipe burst. More than $500,000 in damages has been paid and several of the cases are still pending.
Though many residents said Saturday's gusher was reminiscent of the flooding after spring rains, this flow packed more of a punch. "This is similar to when there's been a big rainfall," said Edwin Coles, who with his wife, Eugenia, has lived on the avenue since 1955. "But this morning at about 8 a.m. it looked about twice what had ever been caused by the rain."
Eugenia discovered the torrent when she went out to pick up the morning newspaper off her front porch.
" 'Is there a dam that's just broken?' That's what I first asked myself," said Coles, 83. "The water was so muddy I thought of the Mississippi River and all the floods they've had in the Midwest."
But she also saw a blessing in the canyon's conversion to a canal.
"I'd rather hear the water running than the traffic," she said, gazing out at what is usually one on the area's busiest thoroughfares. "I like the sound of running water."