BUENA PARK — An unforgettable roar awoke residents early Thursday as a small tornado, spawned by Pacific storms, touched down briefly, hopscotching over 110 homes and causing an estimated $200,000 in damage, officials said.
"We had no injuries, which is something we're quite thankful for, and there has been minimal property damage," City Manager Kevin O'Rourke said. "When you consider the damage tornadoes usually cause, we've been quite lucky."
Meanwhile, forecasters predicted rain, heavy at times, again for today.
The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down in Buena Park at 1:40 a.m. The roaring and shaking in the morning darkness resembled an earthquake, according to one resident.
"I thought it was the Big One," said Eleanor Mirasim. "The whole house was shaking."
Property damage included a hole blown in one roof and the uprooting of a tree, which crashed into a parked, empty mobile home. The storm caused power outages in some parts of Buena Park, but, ironically, houses in the immediate path of the tornado did not lose electricity, city officials said.
Residents in Buena Park were stunned. "I thought we traded tornadoes for earthquakes when we left Kansas and came to California," said Wilma Downey, 71, who lives with her husband, Travis, at 6177 Pershing Way. "The sound of the wind woke me up. I've never heard anything like it before, but I'll never forget it. It was an awful sound."
The tornado knocked down three 40-foot-tall cypress trees at a home next to the Downeys, and one tree crashed onto the motor home parked in their driveway.
City officials said the tornado first touched down at Patton Way and Valley View Street and continued in a northeasterly direction, crossing the Riverside Freeway and touching down again in the 6400 block of Pheasant Drive, near Albatross Drive. From there, the tornado continued to travel northeast near Holder Street.
One of the last reported places the tornado touched down was at a car dealership at Beach Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue. Jerry Jones, the service manager at Ted Jones Ford, said the doors on several buildings there were blown open by the cyclonic wind and that one truck was slightly damaged when a sign fell on it.
"We got away real easy," Jones said.
The tornado left clear marks of its passage: broken trees, trash cans pummeled, and debris strewn up and down streets. Buena Park public works trucks, which had been patrolling the streets since 2 a.m. Thursday, were continually removing tree branches and damp garbage from the streets.
Gawkers were everywhere in the damaged neighborhoods on Thursday afternoon. Overhead, the air was filled with the buzzing of news service helicopters, while below on the streets, curious neighbors and other onlookers slowly cruised the streets with video cameras, recording shingle-covered yards, uprooted trees, and crushed vehicles.
The smell of diesel fuel and the growling of chain saws was everywhere. Workers from various tree-removal companies swarmed over the fallen trees.
One Buena Park resident, Bill Sundgren, 69, said the tornado sounded like a rumbling train, but added that it was nothing like the tornadoes he had experienced in Kansas.
"I was chased into cellars several times by tornadoes when I lived in Topeka. Next to those twisters, this morning's tornado was just a little breeze."
Elsewhere in Orange County and the rest of Southern California, the weather Thursday was marked by fitful rain and dark clouds that portend more precipitation in days ahead. Forecasters predicted a new round of storms and rain today, continuing through Monday.
Steve Burback, a meteorologist with WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times, said the new storms passing through will bring heavy rain.
"It appears that Orange County will get another one to three inches of rain during the weekend, with some areas likely to get as much as four inches," Burback said. "As the storm is going through Friday night and Saturday, there will be periods of heavy rain in Orange County. There also will be rain on Sunday and Monday."
Burback predicted that the rain will stop by Monday afternoon, then "there will be a break, with no rain, for two or three days beginning Tuesday," he said.
A series of storms born over the Pacific Ocean have moved into Southern California in the past two weeks. But Thursday's tornado was a quirk, Burback noted. "Tornadoes are not very common in California," he said.
While tornadoes are unwelcome, county officials said the rain from the series of storms have greatly benefited drought-stricken Orange County.
Bryan Pastor, an engineering technician with the county's Environmental Management Agency, said that as of Thursday afternoon, Orange County was tallying twice as much rain as it normally gets by this date in a rainy season.