LOS ANGELES — A broken water main near the UCLA campus Tuesday sent a geyser of water some 30 feet into the air, trapping people in underground parking garages and covering 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, as well as 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. At least an inch of water covered the floor Tuesday night, and its locker rooms were also flooded.
“It’s painful. It’s painful,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said at a news conference. “We just refurbished Pauley just a few years ago. And it’s a beautiful structure. It’s of course, a symbolic structure for this entire campus.”
Administrative Vice Chancellor Jack Powazek said the school may need to make contingency plans, but “luckily we’re not in the middle of basketball season.”
The water break came amid a severe drought in California, where under new regulations residents are subject to fines up to $500 a day for wasting water.
Firefighters, some using inflatable boats, 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 nobody was still inside, Humphrey said. No injuries have been reported.
As many as 100 cars were stranded in the garages, officials said.
Beth Schoenborn, 49, and her daughter Kelly Schoenborn, 17, of Portland, Oregon, were on a campus tour that was brought to a halt when the water started flowing.
Their rental car was in one of the flooded parking structures. They got to it and started driving but couldn’t exit because a dip was blocked by water.
“We moved it up to the highest point,” Beth Schoenborn said as she stood outside the parking structure.
The water pipe, which carries 75,000 gallons per minute when it’s functioning, broke at about 3:30 p.m. and was shut off about 3 1/2 hours later, Department of Water and Power spokesman Jim McDaniel said. An estimated 8 million to 10 million gallons were released, McDaniel said.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of water, around 35,000 gallons a minute, which is not ideal in the worst drought in the city’s history,” City Councilman Paul Koretz said, “so we ask everybody to try harder to conserve water.”
Three buildings were damaged. In addition to Pauley Pavilion, the Wooden Center, which has training facilities for students, and the J.D. Morgan Center, which houses the school’s sports trophies and athletics offices was also flooded.
Fire and police officials swarmed the chaotic scene that featured helicopters hovering overhead and backpack-bearing students wading across campus in ankle-deep water. Meanwhile, some fun-seekers went in the water with body boards.
Patrick Huggins and Matthew Bamberger, two 18-year-olds who live in nearby Westwood, said they were having a boring summer day until Huggins’ mother told them about the water.
“It was about up to my thigh, and I thought this is a good day for a little dip,” Huggins said.
The two shot video of themselves diving and splashing in the badly flooded practice putting green used by the golf team.
Paul Phootrakul of the UCLA Alumni Association, who was in business attire for an evening event, took off his dress shoes and 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.”