LOS ANGELES – A broken water main near the UCLA campus Tuesday sent a geyser of water some 30 feet into the air, forced the rescue of people trapped in underground parking garages and covered some of the best-known parts of campus in water, including the school’s famed basketball arena.
The 30-inch, 93-year-old pipe that broke under nearby Sunset Boulevard made a raging river of the street and sent millions of gallons of water across the school’s athletic facilities, including the famed floor of Pauley Pavilion, the neighboring Wooden Center and the Los Angeles Tennis Center, and a pair of parking structures that took the brunt of the damage.
The arena – where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Reggie Miller and Kevin Love starred and John Wooden coached for 10 years – recently underwent a $132 million renovation that was completed in October 2012.
Firefighters, some using inflatable boats, have saved at least five people who were stranded in the underground parking structures.
People saw the water and started rushing down the stairwells to rescue their cars, and authorities had to keep them out as water rose up to the wheel wells of vehicles, many of which were stranded, city fire spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
Firefighters have been searching cars in the structures to make sure they haven’t lost anybody who was inside, Humphrey said. No injuries have been reported.
The water pipe broke at about 3:30 p.m. and was expected to flow for some four hours before it could be safely shut off, Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Michele Vargas said.
The scene was one of chaos with students playing in the water, helicopters hovering overhead and fire and police swarming the scene, said Paul Phootrakul of the UCLA Alumni Association.
TV news reported that some students had pulled out body boards to attempt to ride the flowing water.
Phootrakul, who was in business attire for an evening event, took off his dress shoes, dress socks and rolled up his slacks in an attempt to wade to his car. Firefighters stopped him, saying the parking structure was not steady because of the weight of all the water.
“I was trying to move my car without getting wet so I’m presentable for this event,” he said. “I definitely know that the cars on the bottom floor, my best bet, are gone or totaled. I don’t have much hope for my car.”