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Sepulveda is blocked by slide

A home's backyard slips away, but the cause isn't known. Power is knocked out to 1,800 customers.

March 07, 2008|Tami Abdollah and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writers

A landslide in the Westwood area closed portions of Sepulveda Boulevard through Thursday evening's commute and knocked out power to about 1,800 homes and buildings in Brentwood and Bel-Air, authorities said.

The roadway was reopened and power restored to all customers by 10 p.m., according to Los Angeles Fire and Department of Water and Power officials.

The slide began when a hillside backyard sheared away Thursday morning in the 300 block of South Thurston Avenue and continued to slide throughout the afternoon. Mud and debris piled as high as 6 feet in places as city officials waited for engineers and geologists to determine if it was safe to begin clearing the roadway.

Mud flowing from the hill's collapse pushed vegetation, including eucalyptus and pepper trees, about 100 feet down Sepulveda Boulevard.

Debris spread across two northbound lanes and past the center divider, blocking a portion of southbound traffic, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.

Officials warned that the closure of Sepulveda between Sunset and Wilshire boulevards would probably cause "significant delays" for those planning to attend the UCLA-Stanford basketball game at 8 p.m. Sepulveda is a major thoroughfare in the Westwood area, and the game at Pauley Pavilion was expected to draw more than 12,000 people, according to campus officials. Extra traffic control officers were to be positioned at key intersections to facilitate flow, according to university spokesman Phil Hampton.

The first sign of trouble came about 7 a.m. when commuters near Montana Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard reported arcing power lines that set nearby eucalyptus trees on fire, Humphrey said. The arcing indicated shifting earth, and the landslide began shortly after firefighters arrived, he said.

By afternoon, officials red-tagged the home directly above the slide area, declaring it unsafe and off-limits. In addition, two nearby homes were yellow-tagged, or declared partially off-limits, according to Bob Steinbach, assistant bureau chief for the city's Department of Building and Safety.

"It's crazy. All of a sudden the lights were on and then the lights were off. I walked into the kitchen to make the kids' lunches but there was no power," said Stephanie Dubinsky, who lives a block from the slide. "It's a little scary because we have friends who live down there."

The collapse of the hill sent a large tree tumbling onto Sepulveda Boulevard, which was closed between Sunset and Wilshire because of "pavement disruption" due to the landslide, Humphrey said.

Authorities on the scene initially said a water main break appeared to have contributed to the collapse, although Humphrey cautioned that "the cause will probably not be known for quite some time." After an initial investigation, DWP crews found no problem with the water system.

"It becomes in many ways a case of the chicken and the egg," Humphrey said.

"There was water and mud, there were water lines ruptured, but the question remains: Did the water lines rupture because of the landslide? Or did the landslide occur because the water lines ruptured?"

Thursday's cleanup was expected to take hours because pipes and power lines had to be repaired, in addition to removal of vegetation and mud, officials said.

It took roughly seven hours to remove the debris.

Last month, a similar incident occurred at a hilltop home in Encino, which split in two and threatened to slide into neighboring houses.

The home has since been demolished and a geology firm is doing a study to determine the cause of that slide, according to Steinbach.

Another question officials are working to answer is where the landslide occurred: on a homeowner's property line, city property, DWP property or elsewhere.

"We don't know where the property line ends and where the landslide began," Humphrey said.

"And that will become highly contested."

Although power remained out to many area homes and businesses well into the afternoon, DWP officials said they had restored service by 9 a.m. to the nearby Getty Center, which is within sight of the slide area, as well as nine other industrial and commercial customers.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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