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60-M.P.H. Winds Topple Trees, Trucks, 19 Aircraft : Man Killed Stepping on Power Line

February 17, 1988|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana winds gusting at up to 60 m.p.h. ripped paths of destruction through Southern California this morning, killing a man who stepped on a downed power line and blasting out windows, felling trees, toppling trucks and planes and battering homes.

About 100,000 customers lost power for up to four hours before dawn, and the gusts were so strong in the Azusa-Glendora area that the California Highway Patrol closed down eight miles of the Foothill Freeway to all traffic at 4:30 a.m. after at least three big trucks were blown over.

Fifteen light planes were overturned by the winds at Burbank Airport, and two more flipped over at Orange County's John Wayne Airport. Two military aircraft were blown over at the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, and another pair were torn from their moorings at Van Nuys Airport.

Amtrak said downed trees and blacked-out signals delayed rail traffic on the Los Angeles-San Diego line, with some trains running up to an hour and a half late.

Several small brush and grass fires--some of them started by fallen power lines--were fanned by the winds in the Duarte area and in northern San Diego County, but all were quickly extinguished by firefighters.

'Just Trying to Help'

Another small fire was started by a downed power line on the front lawn of a home on Orangecrest Avenue in the Azusa area about 2:15 a.m. Friends said a neighbor, Julio Mendoza, 39, ran over to help extinguish the blaze.

"I saw the power line arcing and I ran outside," said a resident of the home, who asked that his name not be used. "I could see the wire, jumping about in the wind, and then I saw Mr. Mendoza, lying there in the ground, on top of it.

"I guess he was trying to put out the fire with a hose. He was just trying to help."

Mendoza was pronounced dead at the scene.

About two miles to the north, Luanne Munns, a publicist at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, and her daughter, Melanie, awoke from their sleep to hear the winds tearing at the roof of their isolated, hilltop home.

'A Roaring Sound'

"We were trying to batten down a couple of little transoms that had blown open when there was a roaring sound," Luanne Munns recalled later.

"We could hear the window glass shattering, and then there was a thunderous 'whoom!' as the wind tore the roof off over the living room.

"After the big thump, we weren't even tempted to come out of the bedroom--you could hear the glass continuing to shatter," she said.

"When it got light, we finally went out and looked. Over the living room, there's just nothing there. The whole northeast corner of the house is gone."

At the Royal Oaks mobile home park in the nearby Charter Oak area, Judith Bicklehaupt awoke during the night to feel her home shuddering in the wind.

'Went Outside to Pray'

"I grabbed my Bible and went outside to pray, . . . to ask the Lord to protect us," she said later. "As I came back up the steps, this great big tree went down. It sounded like breaking twigs, only a hundred times stronger."

The tree missed Bicklehaupt's home, but it landed squarely on the trailer next door owned by David Street, damaging it and the brand-new van parked next it.

The National Weather Service said the winds should continue gusting at up to 60 m.p.h. this afternoon before diminishing tonight as the strong high-pressure system over Nevada and Idaho that produced them begins to move eastward.

Skies should be clear again Thursday but winds should be moderate, forecasters said, with gusts seldom topping 10 m.p.h.

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