Tornado-like winds ripped off roofs, lightning bolts knocked out electrical power and drenching rain snarled freeways and prompted flash-flood watches and warnings Friday as a powerful spring storm hammered Southern California.
The storm dropped more than two inches of rain in some areas of Orange County as it flipped big rigs, flooded businesses and closed roads.
Steve Burback, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., said the rain should decrease today, with cloudy skies until another storm hits Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. That storm should be as strong and a little colder than the first, he said.
A tornado-like wind Friday tore part of the roof off of a Lucky supermarket warehouse in Irvine, then hopped from the building to the parking lot where it knocked over eight tractor trailers. Two of about 60 employees inside the 800,000-square-foot Lucky Food Center warehouse suffered minor injuries.
"It lifted the roof up and dropped it back down," one Lucky's employee said. "This thing definitely touched down and rock and rolled all the way across" the warehouse and a wide parking lot.
Dozens of grocery workers escaped serious injury when the collapsing sections of roof sent debris and air-conditioning units plunging into the warehouse at 9300 Toledo Way about 5:40 p.m.
"Apparently some kind of tornado touched down a couple of times," said Capt. Dan Young of the Orange County Fire Department. "It cut quite a path through the warehouse. It knocked over several tractor trailers and a lot of stock."
Flash flood warnings were sounded in south Orange County, and in Laguna Beach the 200 and 300 blocks of Forest Avenue were flooded almost before shopkeepers could react. Businesses all along the street used sandbags to minimize the damage, but for some the water rose too quickly to be stopped.
"It came in through the front door and went right out the back," said John Noller, general manager of the Renaissance Cafe. "We had to hose it down and it took us two hours to clean it up.
"It started about 5 p.m. when the rain started coming down really hard. Within a couple of minutes the mud was 15 inches high. It was 15 seconds before the rain jumped the curb and flooded the restaurant."
The storm also knocked out the Fire Department emergency radio transmitter atop Sierra Peak that serves seven north Orange County cities, although backup repeaters were immediately activated.
Lightning shot through the sky along the coast as thunderstorms cut a swath from Santa Ana to Riverside and San Bernardino. Rain was heaviest in the Irvine-Sand Canyon area where more than 2.5 inches had fallen by 7 p.m., while in Westminster and other areas of the county the measurable rainfall was less than an inch.
Laguna Canyon Road was closed entirely between the San Diego Freeway and El Toro Road at 8 p.m. and was expected to remain closed until at least 6 a.m. today, Lt. Mike White said. Irvine Boulevard between Jeffrey and Sand Canyon was also closed, while traffic on Coast Highway backed up due to flooding.
About 50 rain-related traffic accidents were reported on Orange County freeways, 10 of them blocking traffic lanes, a Highway Patrol spokesman said.
A morning pileup involving more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass was blamed on blinding rain and fog that reduced visibility to 20 feet in some areas of the San Bernardino Mountains.
Police said at least one person was killed and 46 were injured in the chain-reaction crash about 9:30 a.m. The pileup, which involved five tractor-trailer rigs, a school bus and more than 100 cars, closed the southbound lanes of the freeway for several hours. With alternate routes limited to a few narrow, twisting, two-lane roads, traffic backed up for miles.
In Los Angeles, fire officials said a mini-tornado carrying winds exceeding 100 m.p.h. struck a one-block strip of El Sereno Avenue just north of Huntington Drive in the El Sereno district, shredding roofs, shattering windows, chopping down a 100-year-old oak tree and toppling a billboard into the back of a car.
Only about 10 houses were damaged and no injuries were reported, but residents of the community described it as the most freakish weather phenomenon they had ever seen.
"It was a trip," said Enrique Castillo, 35, a carpenter, who was warming up his car when it hit. "Talk about--what do you call it?--adrenalin. I mean, all of a sudden everything just got dark, then all hell broke loose."
Castillo said he dove under the dashboard of his car--an old Toronado--cranked up a classic rock station on the radio and held on while the twister carved through the neighborhood. A minute later, the windows of his apartment had been blown out and his 1,000-pound Harley Davidson had been hurled several yards.
"That's some heavy-duty stuff," Los Angeles Fire Capt. John White said as he surveyed the damage. "It used to be that they had all the tornadoes and we had all the earthquakes. I guess you need a little of both to round things out."