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Winds Down Trees, Poles, Disrupt Power

December 14, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN and LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writers

Chilly Arctic winds tore through Southern California over the weekend, downing power poles like match sticks, knocking out electricity to thousands of homes, littering streets with tons of debris and raising concerns about shelter for the homeless.

The winds were clocked at 50 to 60 m.p.h. in several areas, with gusts up to 80 m.p.h. reported in parts of the San Bernardino Valley.

Hardest hit was the San Bernardino County city of Rancho Cucamonga, where winds exceeding 60 m.p.h. blew down 80 power poles along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Baseline Road, officials said. At least two of those poles fell on cars, but no injuries were reported, a sheriff's official said Sunday.

One After Another

"They came down just like dominoes," city maintenance supervisor Bob Zetterberg said of the line of power poles. "It looks like a war zone out here."

Carol Bowman, co-manager of the Alta Vista Mobile Home Community estimated that 80% of the 186 homes in the park were damaged. And, like many areas of the city, the park lost power.

"It's cold here," Bowman said. "We are a family park and there is no heat for the babies and no cooking."

Bowman said a Southern California Edison Co. spokesman said it could be two days before the power is restored.

Los Angeles' homeless also were forced to endure more cold than usual. The city invoked a Stage 1 alert for the homeless Sunday because temperatures were predicted to fall to about 40 degrees overnight. Such alerts, which are triggered automatically when temperatures dip to below 40 degrees in clear weather and 50 degrees in rain, call for housing vouchers to be distributed to the homeless.

This is the sixth time that the alert has been called this winter.

Late Sunday, city officials decided to open two additional shelters as well.

"We're going to open two recreation facilities, one in the (San Fernando) Valley, and one in Venice, where we believe there is an additional need beyond available beds," Deputy Mayor Mike Gage said.

The Red Cross was to operate the shelters, at the Lakeview Terrace Recreation Center in the Hansen Dam area, and at the Oakwood Recreation Center in Venice. Gage said the shelters will remain open as long as temperatures remain low and an insufficient number of beds appears to be available at other facilities.

He said the mayor's office also notified Los Angeles Police Department officials of the shelter openings so officers could inform people on the streets of the availability of space. Two vans were provided to ferry the homeless to the shelters.

Los Angeles County has been operating a similar program off and on in colder areas over the last three weeks, said Verta Nash, administrator of the county's homeless policy development. Nash said she expects the program to continue at least through this week because more cold weather is expected.

Pat Cooper, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times, explained that California was caught between a high-pressure area centered off the Oregon coast and a vigorous low-pressure area over New Mexico.

"Think of a high pressure as a dome of air, and a low pressure as a sinking hole of air," she said. "And the gradient between these two systems is pretty stiff. That means that the air will fall fast--the wind will blow hard--from the high to the low, just the way water will fall from high to low ground."

What most Southern California residents saw of the windstorm was litter from literally thousands of tree limbs that damaged cars, roofs, and gardens and made driving through many neighborhoods difficult.

Christmas decorations blew down in Beverly Hills. Freeway signs snapped off poles in Altadena. People running Christmas tree lots vainly tried to keep their trees standing, but most ultimately gave up and laid the trees down to protect them from the powerful gusts.

Storefront windows in Hollywood, Pasadena and elsewhere were shattered by the winds, which first began to kick up late Saturday afternoon. Outdoor furniture was blown off patios and into flower beds. Empty trash cans rattled down streets.

The wind tossed about something much larger in Altadena. A helicopter parked above Chaney Trail was blown about 10 feet down a hillside, apparently before dawn Sunday, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Greg Lee.

Southern California Edison leased the chopper from a private firm. Officials closed Chaney Trail until the aircraft could be removed today. No damage estimate was available.

Power to downtown Long Beach was knocked out Sunday afternoon after a fallen tree touched power lines at Spring Street and Long Beach Boulevard. The Police Department and City Hall went to emergency power, and officers were dispatched to direct downtown traffic.

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