Several miles of popular South Bay beaches could be closed until midweek after a sanitation pumping station in Manhattan Beach malfunctioned Sunday, dumping tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the ocean, officials said.
The accident, which occurred some time before 10 a.m., led authorities to quickly close off the sand and waters along Torrance, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach while emergency crews tried to repair the pumping station and siphon away sewage from underground sanitation lines.
Capt. Michael Garafano of the Hermosa Beach Fire Department said three houses on the beach were affected by the spill. Only one was occupied at the time, and fire officials were trying to find the residents of the other houses to notify them of the damage.
Garafano said he did not know what kind of damage the houses sustained but added that Los Angeles County officials had offered to help with the cleanup. The affected houses were between 21st and 35th streets on the Strand, he said.
Gary Ashe, who has lived on the Strand in Hermosa Beach for six years, said he returned home Sunday afternoon from a weekend in the desert to find his house blocked off by police tape and about 20 people walking around near the sewage flow.
"I came home to a big cesspool in front of my house," said Ashe, whose home is situated on a corner downstream from the sewage plant. "You walk outside, and the stench is unbelievable. It means I'm going to have to stay away from my house, big time."
Ten trucks with 5,000-gallon tanks were dispatched to the beach cities to haul away the sewage for treatment at a Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts facility in Carson.
"It is like an old bucket brigade," said sanitation agency spokesman Joe Haworth.
But Haworth added that the trucks, running hour after hour, were able to handle only a fraction of the more than 4 million gallons a day of sewage that flow to the pumping station at 27th Street and the Strand.
"We're just doing the best we can," he said.
Under normal circumstances, Haworth said, sewage from the beach cities would move north to the pumping station before being sent on to the sanitation facility in Carson.
But the malfunction at the pumping station suddenly led to a backup of water and sewage at various locations.
In some cases, he said, sewage spills occurred from manhole covers; in other locations, the sewage flowed into flood control channels or directly onto the sand, where it made its way into the ocean.
"This is a big [spill] for us," Haworth said. "Tens of thousands of gallons of raw sewage have certainly made it into the ocean. And a lot more than that has spilled but has been corralled" at a large pond just blocks from the pumping station.
By late Sunday night, Haworth said, sanitation workers were still attempting to repair the pumping station.
"Usually we get these up and running in a couple of hours. But this one has been pesky," he said about 8 p.m., more than 10 hours after the station broke down.
At 10 p.m. Haworth said crews still had not been able to repair the pumping station and were considering installing a 400-foot-long pipe that would carry the sewage to a sewer line leading to the Carson facility.
The repairs were initially complicated by the fact that the station was flooded because the pump was not operating. When crews arrived, they attempted to pump out the water to avoid the risk of an electrocution. When that failed, they instead decided to bypass the station and install a temporary sewage pump outside the facility.
With crews expected to work all night long, Haworth said, the cleanup would take at least two or three days.
It was unclear when the beaches would be allowed to reopen.
Once the sewage spill is contained, he said, county health officials will be in charge of testing the ocean waters for safety.
Those tests usually take at least 24 hours to complete, Haworth said.
Times staff writer Amanda Covarrubias contributed to this report.