Brad Jones sifted through the debris on his living room floor Wednesday afternoon, picked up the shattered pieces of a treasured antique smoking pipe and groaned. A moment later, he retrieved a nondescript glass beer mug that had been near the pipe on a bookshelf; the mug didn't have so much as a scratch on it.
"It's amazing what got broken and what didn't," said the 34-year-old Laguna Beach carpenter, surveying the destruction about him. "Everything about this is amazing."
About 10 hours earlier, a giant oak tree, shaken loose by pre-dawn winds that ripped through the Southland, had slid off a hill behind Jones' tiny wooden bungalow on Canyon Acres Drive in Laguna Beach and crashed through the roof.
A heavy main branch about 10 inches thick crunched through the roof of Jones' bedroom, jamming into the floor no more than two feet from where he had been lying half asleep in his bed.
A Fire Department official who later examined the damage said that if the branch had hit Jones, he almost certainly would have been killed. As it turned out, no one received even minor injuries in the incident; not Jones, who was in his house alone, nor his next-door neighbor, Renee Lang, whose house was also struck by the tree as she slept inside.
But while both occupants were unscratched, the same can't be said for the houses.
Lang said the spare bedroom of the two-bedroom A-frame she moved into six months ago was demolished. Jones' one-bedroom bungalow, which he had been painstakingly refurbishing and had recently painted, was all but destroyed.
Both said their houses were insured.
"I just put that back door on," he said Wednesday afternoon as he walked through the house he had lived in for three years. "I had to break it down to get out."
The tree, which was decades old and so big it fully shaded two lots, had made several large holes in the roof and branches and leaves poked into the bungalow's interior. The base of the trunk, which came to rest on the roof, had dumped dirt through the holes.
The force of the falling tree was so great inside the house that some furniture was crushed and smaller objects were sent flying.
Jones said he left the house in a daze and went next door to Lang's home.
"I first thought just the branch came in," he said. "Then I got up and saw what had happened. I tried to get out the front door, but I couldn't get it open."
Lang said Jones arrived on her porch with "eyes as big as saucers."
She said she had been awakened by the sound of breaking glass and had just discovered the damage to her house.
Other neighbors, who had been kept awake by the howling wind, took Jones and Lang in and called police and fire officials, who ordered electrical service in the immediate area turned off temporarily because the tree had pulled down some electrical lines when it fell.
Jim Watson, 33, who, along with his wife Kelly, is Jones' other next-door neighbor, said the fallen oak tree could have been 100 years old. Another neighbor who has lived on the street since 1956 said the tree was already of imposing size when he moved there.
Jones and his neighbors pointed out that despite its age, examination of the spot where the tree had stood showed that its roots had not grown very deep. The spot has only a thin layer of soil and is atop a slab of sandstone.
"The wind just pushed the tree off the hill," Watson said. "I don't know how it ever stayed there as long as it did."