The first 267 cars trapped in flooded parking structures at UCLA after a massive water main break are being moved to a parking lot for owners to retrieve them, campus officials said Thursday.
Stranded vehicles were being moved from parking structure 4 to parking lot 36 in Westwood, according to a UCLA press release.
The first vehicles to be removed were parked on the eastern end of the upper level of the parking structure -- the area that took in the least water, officials said. The vehicles were brought out of the subterranean structure using tow trucks or flatbed trucks.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, owners who received a notification from UCLA Transportation will be allowed to pick up their vehicles in Parking Lot 36, located at Kinross Drive and Veteran Avenue in Westwood Village. The lot will remain open until 10 p.m.
Most of the cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles must remain in place until all water is pumped from the underground levels.
Both parking structures remain closed to the public. Gasoline and other chemicals are mixing with the standing water that remains. Safety staff are monitoring the water for toxicity.
"There will be a way for our department to get the vehicles out well before it’s safe for the public to get in," said Renée Fortier, director of UCLA Events and Transportation. "A lot of people think they should be able to go back into the structures immediately. With flooding, we have to make sure the structure is safe."
On Thursday morning campus officials said that as a precaution, six UCLA maintenance employees working on an electrical panel in an underground parking structure had been evaluated for exposure to carbon monoxide. Three were transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and later released after testing negative for exposure, and three were evaluated and released on-site outside Parking Structure 4.
The incident occurred about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, when UCLA fire officials encouraged the crew to be tested after passersby smelled exhaust coming from a stairwell leading up from the northwest corner of Parking Structure 4.
Officials said the workers were wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including carbon monoxide indicators that confirmed that their workspace contained negligible levels of carbon monoxide.
The crew was using a gas-powered generator to provide light as they worked on a transformer to restore electricity to the John Wooden Center, officials said. Units that provide power to buildings were damaged in flooding from Tuesday's water main break, which sent an estimated 20 million gallons of water flowing downhill toward campus.
Kelly Schmader, assistant vice chancellor for facilities management, said managers are working with UC employees and private contractors to ensure proper ventilation of exhaust from generators being used at various campus locations.
"The safety of all these crews working extremely hard to return the campus to normal operations is our top priority," Schmader said.
Students and staff whose cars remained trapped in the structures had to find different ways to get to campus Thursday evening.
Nearly 1,000 cars are still trapped inside parking structures 4 and 7.
Patches of dirt on the top floor of structure 4 were visible.
The damage was a lot worse on the lower floors.
UCLA employee Randi Danforth was still waiting on the fate of her car.
"I heard my car might be in the dry area," she said. "So it might be OK. If it isn't, I'll just take this opportunity to get a new car, I guess."
UCLA officials say the water should all be pumped out by Friday night.
Then comes the enormous task of getting the cars out. Nearly half of them are believed to be inoperable which means there will be towing.
And there are no promises as to when hundreds of employees, students, and visitors will get their vehicles.
"We understand the impact that this is having," said Tod Tamberg, a UCLA spokesman. "We're working as hard as we can day and night, 24-7, to make sure we get the water out of there, make sure we get the debris out of there, that we are able to reunite them with their cars."
People with trapped cars are being advised to talk to their insurance companies and look into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power claims process.
The campus community, meantime, is finding new ways of getting around, including carpooling and public transportation.
A number of them are giving rides to colleagues whose cars are unavailable.
"I drove a colleague home the other night," Tamberg said.