WESTWOOD (CBSLA.com) — Parts of UCLA remained underwater after a nearly 100-year-old water main broke, resulting in massive flooding Tuesday afternoon, causing havoc across campus.
The break occurred about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, prompting a tremendous geyser of water to blast through a large sinkhole in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, directly adjacent to UCLA’s campus. The water rushed onto campus, flooding historic athletic arenas and fields, as well as two underground parking structures.
The number of cars that remained in the flooded levels of the parking structures into the night hours remained unknown by officials.
UCLA student Quinn Halleck witnessed the water-main break as it initially erupted.
“I’m coming down the hill, I start to see the cement starting to peak,” Halleck described. “I kind of didn’t believe it at first, because I didn’t really know what was going on. And then, finally, I just see the water start pouring out, and cement started falling everywhere, so I of course got off my board and stopped going toward it, and really just kind of backed away from it.”
Sections of UCLA’s campus lost power as a result of the flooding.
A number of people on campus reportedly lost their footing in strong currents and found themselves pinned under vehicles and other obstructions, until they were rescued by rescue teams.
In addition to Drake Field, much of the recently renovated and reopened Pauley Pavilion, where the UCLA Bruins basketball team plays their home games, was overwhelmingly flooded.
Workers with brooms and squeegees were laboring to get as much water out of the arena, one of the most storied in the history of modern collegiate sports, and easily the most well-known court in college basketball.
CBS2/KCAL9 Sports Central’s Kristine Leahy reported that both athletic facilities suffered extensive damage as a result of the flooding. The water on Pauley Pavilion’s wood floor was reported to be about 3 inches deep.
“(The field was) completely covered,” a track and field coach said. “I went down there like 15 minutes after the water broke, and when I walked down onto the field, it just slowly started seeping in, and within literally 30 minutes, it was completely covered, about 4-5 inches deep, and it just started flooding everywhere. We kind of came over to where Pauley’s opening is, and when Pauley started to flood, we all knew we had to get to higher ground at that point.”
Miraculously, the football field reportedly remained dry, which may be able to service the track and field team. The basketball and volleyball teams, however, will likely need to use another arena for an indefinite amount of time.
An unknown number of residents were also without water Tuesday night, after Department of Water and Power officials estimate nearly 10 million gallons of increasingly precious water was lost as a result of the break.
DWP crews capped the water main shortly after 8 p.m., at which point the water was turned off and pumps were being used to empty some of the water from the sinkhole.
Sunset Boulevard remained closed from Veteran Avenue to well east of UCLA’s campus. Sunset is expected to remain closed Wednesday.
Senior Assistant General Manager for LADWP Jim McDaniel credited the responders for their quick actions during the flooding.
“LA Fire Department, LA Police Department, LA Department of Transportation all responded,” McDaniel said. “The Fire Department has done a fabulous job of getting the situation under control until our crews could get here to get the thing shut off. The Police Department has also been extremely helpful.”
McDaniel said in a news conference that the high-pressure main required three valves to be shut off in a certain order, at a specific rate that does not cause further damage to the pipes or their surrounding area.
As of Tuesday night, when the water was shut off, the job of DWP became the focus on repairs, which McDaniel said would last throughout the night.
Some 160 firefighters ultimately responded to the flooding after the original call came in at 3:30 p.m., according to Interim Fire Department Chief James Featherstone, who also said the department arrived with urban search and rescue teams, as they had been uncertain what they might find at the scene.
“We assisted five citizens with getting out of their vehicles,” Featherstone said. “At this time, the Fire Department is assisting with de-watering operations, and doing what we can to help UCLA recover from this incident.”
Gene Block, chancellor of UCLA, spoke about the flooding, and emphasized that no one was reported hurt.
“Unfortunately, UCLA was the sink for this water source,” Block said. “The important thing to remember is that we have no reported injuries, so the most important thing is, everybody is safe. Everyone on campus is being looked after.”