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Sinkhole swallows up half of fire truck

September 8, 2009 7:30:49 AM PDT
A water main break created a sinkhole big enough to swallow up half of a fire truck in Valley Village on Tuesday.Water started gushing near the intersection of Hartsook Street and Bellingham Avenue, east of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, just before 5 a.m.

The street was flooded when firefighters arrived at the scene. The firefighters were attempting to back the 21-ton engine when they suddenly felt the ground collapse underneath them.

"The captain noticed that we had a buildup of water here on Hartsook. They moved the rig down to further investigate through the water and they realized they were in an area that possibly was compromised," said Dep. Chief Mark Stormes of the Los Angeles City Fire Department. "At that point they put it in reverse and started to back out and the street gave way underneath them."

Four firefighters inside were able to jump out of the truck and escaped injury as mud and water poured into the vehicle's cabin.

"I was pretty shocked this morning when I looked out the window," said Ashley Mahaffey from Valley Village.

"We couldn't figure out why there were red lights flashing. We thought maybe somebody had gotten hurt. Instead, we found out there was a fire truck in a sinkhole in front of my house," she said.

Crews using a crane pulled the truck out of the hole by early afternoon. The $650,000 truck will need lots of repairs.

Officials said they do no believe the 6-inch water main break was related to another massive water main break in Studio City.

"We have something like 7,200 miles of pipe in the L.A. DWP system. That's enough pipe to go all the way to New York and back, so this is the size of this infrastructure, and it requires constant maintenance, constant upgrading," said David Nahai, DWP general manager.

Officials are investigating what caused the pipe to burst. The L.A. DWP has ruled out the pipe's age. DWP officials said it was a fairly young water pipe that broke, built in 1969.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city has a five-year plan to repair and replace old pipes, but the city would need more money from the federal government to make the upgrades.

"L.A. is not alone in grappling with infrastructure challenges, whether they're sewers, whether the electric grid, whether it's our roads, highways, our bridges. They are in disrepair," said Villaraigosa.

About 40 DWP customers in the neighborhood were without water for hours due to the incident.

The repair work being done by DWP workers throughout the day and night on Tuesday should have the street back open by Wednesday morning.

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