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Crews clean up, repair flood damage from L.A. water main break

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Utility crews working around the clock on Wednesday labored to clean up and repair damage from a major water main break that spouted a 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) geyser and flooded part of the University of California campus in drought-stricken Los Angeles.

The late-afternoon rupture on Tuesday beneath Sunset Boulevard, a key thoroughfare on the city's west side, opened a gaping sinkhole in the street and sent water gushing across the north end of the UCLA campus for several hours.

It took crews from the Department of Water and Power (DWP) until 7 p.m. to halt most of the water flow, though shutoff valves were still stuck partially open and water continued to drain into the crater as of midday Wednesday, slowing repair efforts, DWP officials said.

An estimated 20 million gallons of water has escaped from the rupture, the worst in Los Angeles since a larger and older pipeline burst in the Studio City district in September 2009, flooding nearby homes and businesses, the DWP said.

The latest torrent flooded several campus buildings, including the basketball court at UCLA's newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, swamped the school's track stadium and inundated the underground floors of two parking structures.

Several hundred cars remained stuck in the two parking facilities, which have been closed while damage is assessed, school officials said. A stretch of Sunset Boulevard also was shut down for repairs.

DWP spokesman Albert Rodriguez said crews working through the night had finished removing mud and debris by morning, and that the cause of the rupture was under investigation.

The 93-year-old steel pipe, 30 inches wide, normally carries 75,000 gallons of water per minute from a reservoir to L.A.'s Westwood neighborhood and appears to have broken at the junction of another water line, the utility said.

The rupture underscored the aging condition of much of the city's infrastructure. The DWP projected in 2012 that 1.4 million feet of its water delivery pipeline, or 27 percent of the total, would be at least a century old by this year.

The mishap occurred as California suffers through a record drought that has prompted state and local authorities to impose strict water conservation measures, including fines for wasting even a few gallons on excessive lawn irrigation.

A panel of experts concluded in 2010 that fluctuations in water pressure caused by restrictions on lawn sprinklers at the time were a factor in a rash of water main blowouts in 2009, including the big Studio City rupture. Those restrictions have since been evened out.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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