Anh Nguyen was in the middle of a student counseling session when her co-workers came running into the room with a message: “Move your car! It’s going to be flooded!”
The 22-year-old recent graduate had just purchased a 2014 Toyota Prius. She ran outside to see water rushing down the ramp to her parking lot.
As students and staff sprinted across soaked fields to get a glimpse of the disaster, she made a beeline for her car. And once she got to it, she fired up the engine and drove it to the upper level.
“That saved it,” Nguyen said Friday as she climbed back into her driver’s seat for the first time since the flood. Her car still shined after the wash she gave it this week.
“This is my first car,” she said, “so, I was like, ‘No, baby, don’t die!”
Three days after a water main break dumped more than 20 million gallons of water onto the UCLA campus and the streets surrounding it, university officials began releasing unharmed cars to their owners.
More than 900 people reported having vehicles inside one of two flooded parking garages near the center of the Westwood campus.
Of those, about 400 are expected to be declared total losses because of water damage and will eventually be towed somewhere near Jackie Robinson Stadium sometime early next week, university officials said.
About 360 cars, like Nguyen’s Prius, were unharmed and towed to a Westwood parking lot Thursday night and throughout Friday. Owners could pick them up beginning Friday morning.
The scene at Parking Lot 36 was full of smiles as students and staff reunited with their vehicles while tow trucks backed Volkswagen Golfs and Mini Cooper Countrymans into spaces one by one.
But officials say more work and sadder days are to come. As of Friday afternoon, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews had removed 66 feet of damaged pipe from the site of the rupture on Sunset Boulevard.
Crews were also finishing work on a new custom-built piece of pipe that will replace the ruptured Y-section. On its Twitter account, the department posted a picture of a massive, 4,000-pound beige valve that was expected to be installed Friday evening.
“The trunk line repair is expected to continue through late Friday or early Saturday, after which the backfilling and street repair phase will begin,” the DWP said in a statement.
The department also warned that the installation will stress the system, which could lead to “leaks or pipe breaks.” Crews would “immediately” respond to any incidents, the statement said. Officials did not return phone messages seeking additional comment.
UCLA, meanwhile, reiterated that the DWP would bear responsibility for flood damage on campus.
“We’re asking people who have damaged cars to contact their insurance companies to have them assess the damage. If they don’t have insurance, or don’t have liability, we’re pointing them to the DWP site to address their problems with DWP directly,” UCLA spokesman Tod Tamberg said. “Our stance is that DWP has responsibility and at this particular point, they seem to be accepting that responsibility.”
Chancellor Gene Block could not provide an exact estimate of the damage when asked to do so earlier this week, but said it was probably in the millions of dollars. The university launched a fundraising campaign Thursday that had raised more than $10,000 by Friday evening to assist affected students and teachers as well as help with building repairs.
School officials said the Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center was open and operating Thursday after its generator had been flooded in one of the parking garages.
The John Wooden Center – the campus’ main fitness center – sustained “a lot of damage,” Tamberg said, and remained closed Friday.
In an email, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said the Collins Court in the John Wooden Center would receive a new floor and is expected to be ready for use by early November.
He also said the Drake Stadium track was fully functional and had been “restored to its original condition. He reiterated “the entire wood floor at Pauley Pavilion will be replaced with a new state-of-the-art court,” and said “repairs to the interior of Pauley Pavilion are ongoing.”
The two flooded garages were on schedule to have all the water pumped out by Friday evening, Tamberg said. Afterward, mud and debris will have to be removed, the speed of which “will form our calendar” for removing the rest of the cars, he said.
Barry Kendrick, 29, tried to get his undamaged car back Friday after what he called a “pretty stressful” last few days. He approached the kiosk in Lot 36 with his ID and a VIN number, but because he had just bought his 2014 Chevrolet Camaro three months ago, he wasn’t able to remember its license plate number.
“Sorry it’s not listed,” an employee told him as she checked a spreadsheet. “Without the license plate number it’s going to be a needle in a haystack to find it.”
“I’ll walk the lot,” Kendrick, an associate director for the UCLA Anderson School of Management, volunteered. He grabbed his key, threw his arm into the air, and started hitting the remote.
Halfway down the first aisle, he pointed the key at a black car in the distance, and the Camaro’s taillights flashed. He danced the rest of the way, opening his arms wide, and wrapping them around the hood, which was dusty but undamaged, in a hug.
“Yes! My car!” he yelled. “Oh my God, Yes!”
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