published on July 20, 2016 - 7:02 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

(AP) — Authorities closed a stretch of popular Southern California ocean amid fears that raw sewage from a massive spill miles away might have made it to the coast.

A buried pipe some 20 miles away in Los Angeles collapsed Monday, causing a blockage that belched 2.4 million gallons of stinky sludge onto streets and into storm drains, officials said.

Crews managed to contain, divert or vacuum up at least 750,000 gallons but the rest flowed into the Los Angeles River, and some may have reached the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

The flow was stopped Tuesday and an above-ground bypass system was being built so repairs and cleanup could get underway, said Adel Hagekhalil, assistant director of Los Angeles Sanitation.

Beaches in Long Beach and Seal Beach were closed to swimmers and waders until at least Wednesday while health officials tested the waters for bacteria to determine whether it was safe.

Warning signs and flags were up and lifeguards shooed way some visitors.

The closure was a financial hit for M&M Surfing School of Seal Beach, which had to cancel classes for 70 students at a loss of $85 each.

“Nobody went out,” owner Michael Pless said. “The bummer is I have people coming from all over the world. I have people from England, Sweden. I had people flying in to meet me.”

Pless said he took some younger students, whose parents had dropped them off, to his home pool and Jacuzzi.

“They didn’t get to surf but they got to play,” Pless said.

The 1929 concrete, tiled-lined pipe that broke was 18 feet underground, while more recent pipes are 80 to 100 feet below, Hagekhalil said.

The top collapsed and choked the pipe with debris, creating an overflow.

The cause of the collapse wasn’t clear.

The pipe had been scheduled for replacement in two years. “It just did not wait for us,” Hagekhalil said.

Sewage warnings aren’t unusual for beaches at the end of the Los Angeles River, a mostly concrete channel that runs 51 miles through the massive industrial and urban regions of Los Angeles County to Long Beach. Most of its water comes from a sewage treatment plant but it also handles storm runoff.

During storms in 1998, more than 30 million gallons of sewage spilled.

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