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So. Cal tanker fire will force freeway demolition

Road, overpass near Los Angeles badly damaged

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2011

MONTEBELLO, Calif. Authorities say a 10-mile stretch of Southern California freeway that was closed by a gasoline tanker fire will reopen sometime Friday.

Heavy tractors moved in Thursday to begin demolishing the eastern lanes of the Paramount Boulevard overpass that was severely damaged by Wednesday's tanker fire on state Route 60 in Montebello. Inspectors will decide whether the west side of the bridge must also come down, California Highway Patrol Officer Luis Mendoza said.

California Department of Transportation spokesman Kelly Markham said that in either case, the highway east of Los Angeles will reopen Friday afternoon in time for the evening commute.

The closure jammed alternate freeway routes heading into Los Angeles on Thursday, with some drivers reporting delays of an hour or more during their morning commute.

The 10-mile stretch of the road was shut down after the double-tanker carrying an estimated 9,000 gallons of gasoline caught fire under the overpass. The intense heat partially melted the truck, cratered the roadway and left spilled fuel everywhere.

A Montebello firefighter broke a leg fighting the blaze and thousands of motorists were stuck in place for hours. The truck's driver and a passenger escaped unharmed.

The cause of the crash, including the possibility that the tanker's brakes overheated, remained under investigation.

State Route 60 is a major artery linking downtown Los Angeles with the San Gabriel Valley and other bedroom communities east of the city. It also is a main route for trucks delivering goods from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to inland warehouses.

On Thursday morning, the usually bumper-to-bumper morning commute in the Los Angeles area was even more of a misery as tens of thousands of drivers who normally used state Route 60 took detours.

Delays of an hour or more were reported, Officer Mendoza said.

"It's definitely impacting just about every freeway that comes into Los Angeles County. It's causing overflow onto the 210, the 10 and the 91," CHP Officer Mike Harris said.

Nakisa Kohanchi, an Iranian immigrant, missed her naturalization ceremony because of the traffic jams. Miss Kohanchi left her home in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles at 7:15 a.m. and headed to the ceremony in Montebello, 20 miles away.

It took her nearly two hours to get there, as she was detoured off state Route 60, got lost and drove in circles.

"I had to exit the freeway and I didn't know how I could get there from the streets," said Miss Kohanchi, who planned to become a U.S. citizen at a second ceremony scheduled later in the day.

AP writer Robert Jablon contributed to this story.

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