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Strong Winds Fell Trees, Down Power Lines

Thousands go without electricity as gusts reach 60 mph in some areas. More of same is on tap.

March 28, 2003|Stephanie Stassel and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

Powerful winds that pummeled the Southland on Thursday cut power to more than 27,000 homes and offices, caused a worker to suffer critical injuries when he fell from a hydraulic lift bucket, and downed trees around the area.

"I thought it was an earthquake," said Sigurd Bruseth, who was resting in a bedroom when a 100-foot pine fell on his home in Canoga Park about 12:30 p.m.

"The ceiling was falling down on the bed," Bruseth said. "I got out as fast as I could."

The bedroom and kitchen of the home were severely damaged, but Bruseth and his 5-year-old granddaughter, who was playing with a computer in the front of the house, escaped injury.

Gusts of more than 40 mph forced flight controllers at LAX to impose a "ground stop" between 7:58 p.m. and 8:24 p.m. During that period, flights bound for LAX were prohibited from taking off and two flights due to land were diverted, according to an airport spokesman.

Pilots of departing flights were given the option of taking off or not.

In the Westlake district, a 39-year-old man repairing the side of a building at 6:30 p.m. was hospitalized in very critical condition after the bucket he was working in fell about 20 feet, according to authorities.

The man suffered severe head injuries and was in full cardiac arrest when paramedics took him to Good Samaritan Hospital, said Jim Wells, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

The National Weather Service issued a high surf advisory until 9 a.m. today.

Trees were downed throughout the area, with Beverly Hills and Santa Monica among the hardest hit.

In the Hollywood and Los Feliz areas, which were raked by gusts up to 60 mph, trees also were knocked down, but there were no other reports of damage. The winds are expected to continue today and Saturday, said Bruce Rockwell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

More than 14,000 Department of Water and Power customers and about 13,000 Southern California Edison customers lost electrical service as wires shorted out and snapped in scattered neighborhoods. Early Thursday, a wind-driven fire blackened about five acres in the Little Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest. The Wildlife Way Station, a 160-acre refuge for indigenous and exotic animals, was briefly threatened, but the brush was damp and firefighters controlled the blaze within an hour.

The National Weather Service said the winds are the product of a large high-pressure system that was stalled off the coast of Oregon and Northern California. Air circulating clockwise around this system is funneling into Southern California, drying out and heating by compression as it sweeps down mountain canyons to the sea.

The result is warmer than normal temperatures for this time of year. Thursday's high in downtown Los Angeles was 77 degrees, six degrees above the normal high for the date.

Temperatures in the 80s are expected in the Los Angeles Basin today, reaching near 90 in the warmest areas on Saturday. Highs in the 80s are expected again Sunday before a gradual cooling trend begins early next week.

The winds, mostly out of the northwest on Thursday, will shift gradually to the northeast as the high pressure system moves across Northern California and Oregon. Officials said that means some areas shielded by mountain ridges on Thursday could be fully exposed today and Saturday.

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Times staff writer Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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