A powerful pre-dawn storm that may have been a tornado swept through an Anaheim neighborhood Sunday, ripping down power lines, flipping over trucks, uprooting trees and scattering muddy debris over homes for several miles.
"For want of a better term, we're calling it a tornado," said Sheri Erlewine, Anaheim public information officer. She noted that the unusually heavy winds had blown away portions of 12 factory roofs on Rose Street, an industrial area four miles north of Disneyland.
National weather forecasters could not confirm that the freakish storm was a tornado. However, they posted an unusual tornado watch Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. for Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego and five other Southern California counties.
Mud Slides Triggered
"This kind of weather is highly atypical for our area," meteorologist Mark McKinley said. The tornado-like conditions are created when warm and cold air masses converge and the sudden updrafts from thunderstorms play havoc with wind currents, he said.
The powerful and fast-moving storm brought torrential rains that triggered mud slides in several places, and an 9-year-old boy was swept away in the swift current of the Los Angeles River. The National Weather Service predicted more rain and wind overnight but said things should be clearing by this afternoon, with still another storm possible before the end of the week.
No major injuries were reported from the Anaheim disturbance, which lasted about five minutes, but city officials estimated that damages could total at least $500,000.
The incident began at 5:30 a.m., when residents in nearby apartments said they heard loud, rapid explosions and felt heavy winds rattling their windows. Some phoned in fire reports when they saw sparks flying from power lines and bright lights in the sky.
At that moment, officials said, gale-force winds bore down on a four-block area of Rose Street between Santa Ana and East streets. The storm smashed in the metal doors of several factories, ripped out large chunks of their roofs and shattered rows of windows.
Dusty Switzer, an East Street resident who said she was standing outside her apartment when the storm picked up, recalled a "dark cloud . . . like a large, shaking balloon" descending over the neighborhood.
The winds "threw me to my knees," while shingles torn from nearby roofs rained down on her courtyard and electric power lines swayed back and forth, Switzer said.
Across the street, an 18-inch-thick tree was ripped from its roots and blown against a car parked in Jose Marin's driveway. The winds shattered his bedroom window and "scared me very badly. . . . I have never heard such a sound," Marin said.
"It was like a gun going off, bam, bam, bam, and then very strong winds," resident Alex Meza added. "You never forget that kind of sound."
Other neighbors awakened by the storm looked out their windows and saw chunks of styrofoam flying through the air. Erlewine said the materials had blown out of containers at a Hitachi packing plant several streets away and blanketed the neighborhood for miles.
Elsewhere, powerful winds snapped an East Street "No Parking" sign in two and hurled it into the street. An apartment door was torn from its frame and blown onto a front lawn 100 feet away. Two large trucks in the Hitachi plant flipped over on their side.
Anaheim police and fire officials, who spent the morning trying to clean up the four-block area, expressed relief that no one had been seriously hurt. The only reported injury was to Andrew Moroneso, 61, an Anaheim Plastics Inc. employee who was inside the Rose Street firm when the storm hit. Although he was shaken up, Moroneso was not badly hurt, police said.
Red Cross officials planned to set up an evacuation center for residents but canceled those plans when the storm's damage turned out to be less severe than expected, according to spokesman Harry Huggins. Power was fully restored to the area by noon, said Anaheim Lt. Marc Hedgepath.
The news was not so encouraging, however, for several Rose Street businessmen. As the rain continued to pour down Sunday morning, they glumly inspected the damage to their factories.
"Just look at this mess . . . this is terrible," said A. J. Fieri, owner of Anaheim Plastics Inc., as he checked out the site. Heavy winds had blown out large sections of his roof and plastic sheets had been draped over machinery to protect it from the rain.
Fieri said his firm, which manufactures plastic coat hangers and other products, had sustained "heavy losses" and could face $80,000 to $100,000 in damages.
Across the street at the Reliable Bumper Co., owner Dennie Dyer stared at the rain falling from a hole in his roof onto the factory floor. Dyer, whose firm manufactures and recycles automobile bumpers, said he had taken "special steps" to keep the vats of corrosive, toxic chemicals inside from overflowing.