01/12/2006

Divers find commercial-grade explosive in canal south of L.A.

By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Associated Press Writer

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.- Commercial-grade explosives discovered in a canal south of Los Angeles prompted authorities to ban cell phone use Wednesday to prevent accidental detonation.

Environmental divers hired to check on algae growth found the cigarette-sized blasting caps late Tuesday in a canal lined with homes off of Huntington Beach harbor.

All seven of the volatile explosives, which often are used to trigger larger explosions, were retrieved from the canal, said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

"We feel confident that we found all of them," Amormino said.

There was no evidence of explosives stronger than the caps, which could cause an explosion equivalent to a hand grenade, Amormino said. Cell phones were banned for several hundred feet surrounding the shoreline because their signals could detonate caps, he said.

"They are very unstable in salt water. They do pose a threat to the divers, any swimmers, any boaters in the area," Amormino said. Nearby homes and large yachts docked in the exclusive area were not threatened, he said.

Authorities did not know why the explosives had been placed there, but said terrorism was not suspected.

"They were probably tossed. I doubt if they were purposely strategically placed," Amormino said.

Corrosion on brightly colored wires attached to the explosives led investigators to believe they ended up there sometime in the past two days, Amormino said. A diver would have been able to see the wires from a distance, he added.

Officials think it's unlikely the explosives are from the nearby Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station.

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