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Second water main break swallows fire truck; Coldwater Canyon closed [Updated]

September 8, 2009 |  7:09 am


A second water main break swallowed a fire engine in the San Fernando Valley this morning as officials warned of a tough commute along Coldwater Canyon Avenue, which is closed.

The new break occurred this morning on Bellingham Avenue at Hartsook Street near Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Valley Village. A firetruck somehow got partially submerged in a large sinkhole, though no one was injured. Several streets in the area were closed. The break was affecting water service to some customers.

[Updated at 7:05 a.m.: Officials were trying to figure out how to shut off water that was continuing to flow out of the sinkhole. They plan to attempt to remove the truck if the ground is stable. The firetruck continued to slip further into the hole.]

A sinkhole that developed Saturday night a few miles away on Coldwater Canyon in Studio City was expected to jam the morning commute. The street is closed around Ventura Boulevard up to Moorpark Street.

Commuters to the Westside are advised to avoid the area and, if forced to detour, stick to Beverly Glen Boulevard to the west and Laurel Canyon Boulevard to the east rather than wind their way through unfamiliar mountain streets.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews finished welding the 62-inch water main -- one of the largest in the city -- that burst late Saturday, flooding residences and washing away cars in a powerful torrent that lasted hours. Water was as deep as 3 feet in some places and ripped a huge gash in the roadway.

Road repair crews were expected to begin rebuilding the most severely damaged portion of Coldwater Canyon, just south of Ventura Boulevard, late Monday or today. Much of the street remained closed south of the Ventura Freeway between Moorpark and Halkirk streets. It was not clear how long it would take to fix the roadway, which collapsed in large chunks in places.

On Monday, several onlookers gawked at city crews repairing the main water pipe at Coldwater Canyon and Ventura, and families struggled to clean up the messy aftermath.

On Dickens Street, half a block away, plastic bags of debris lined the muddy road as cleaning crews vacuumed up muck and sprayed down patios. Robert Mechaalani, a valet parking firm owner, said he awoke Sunday to water rushing down the road in the front of his house and found patio chairs, tables and a new barbecue floating in three feet of water in his backyard. Water filled his garage, destroying a refrigerator and TV and damaging the foundation of his home.

He figures that it will take at least two weeks to clean up the mess.

He estimated his losses at $10,000, which he expects the city to reimburse, but he shrugged it off as an accident.

"Disasters happen," he said as he supervised a cleaning crew. "Now how are we going to take care of it? That's what matters."

Engineers were trying to determine Monday whether a Coldwater Canyon bridge, which spans the Los Angeles River near Valleyheart Drive, was safe to reopen. The examination was not expected to be completed until at least today, said Capt. Richard Rea of the city Department of Transportation.

Detours have been established to route northbound and southbound traffic around the closed section of Coldwater Canyon south of Ventura Boulevard, where the main broke.

Traffic officers will be stationed today at four intersections to guide motorists around the closures from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., officials said.

But Rea warned that the area could become congested this morning when the city heads back to work after the holiday weekend. Drivers may try to snake through hillside neighborhoods to get around the closures, Rea said.

--Rich Connell and Shelby Grad

Click on image to go to interactive map Use the Times' interactive Google map to see the location of the water main breaks and street closures in the area.

Photo: KTLA