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Santa Ana wind damage stuns Southland residents

The onslaught leaves rooftops shredded and yards littered with downed trees in many communities, especially the foothill cities of the San Gabriel Valley. Residents brace for another night of battering.

December 01, 2011|By Sam Quinones and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

Southland residents, tens of thousands of them without electricity, braced for a second onslaught of cold and freakishly powerful winds late Thursday, having barely had time to assess the fallen trees and shredded rooftops left by the previous night's barrage.

"Nobody in our department has ever seen such widespread damage. Nobody," said Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, talking of scores of city parks so littered with broken branches and teetering trees that they were considered a threat to public safety.

Officials took the rare step of temporarily closing Griffith Park because of the windstorm, fearing that downed wires might spark fires in piles of dry, shattered trees. Utility workers struggled to restore power to about 370,000 customers in the city and other areas darkened by the first, and broken traffic lights and downed trees snarled traffic across affected communities.

PHOTOS: Sana Ana wind damage

In heavily hit Pasadena, it was a question of where to begin. Sixty people, many of them elderly and disabled, were bused to a Red Cross shelter from an apartment building on Hudson Avenue that flooded after a tree crashed through the roof and broke a water pipe.

Roof shingles were peeled off and garage doors knocked askew. Thousands were without power and 200 buildings were damaged, more than three dozen residences so badly that they were "red-tagged" — deemed unsafe to use.

"Throughout the entire 26 square miles of the city, streets are littered with trees and tree limbs, downed power lines and wires," Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck said in an interview in the basement of City Hall. People who called the local utility were given the grim word: Get some ice. Some flashlights.

The message was clear: Prepare for a long night.

In South Pasadena, residents were urged to conserve water Thursday morning because a pump to the city's reservoirs failed as part of a widespread power outage, resulting in critically low pressure, authorities said.

On Grace Street, Tom Slattery said he lost power about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and was jolted awake by the storm in the middle of the night. In the morning, "I geared for a cold shower," said Slattery, 38, an attorney. "And then I realized there would be no shower."

The windstorm produced a peak gust of 97 mph, reported at Whitaker Peak Wednesday night west of the 5 Freeway north of Castaic. The winds had calmed by morning, but the storm's second round — predicted to be more of a classic version of Santa Ana winds from the northeast — was expected to lash the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood Hills and Malibu before diminishing later Friday. The winds, though in far weaker form, will probably return over the weekend.

The foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley were the hardest hit by the windstorm. States of emergency were declared in Alhambra, South Pasadena, Pasadena, San Marino, San Gabriel, Temple City, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Glendora and Arcadia.

But in places as far away as the Westside, 29,400 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers were in the dark by daybreak. Thousands were also stripped of power in Los Feliz, Hollywood, Highland Park, El Sereno, Glassell Park, South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. A power outage in northeast Los Angeles affected pumps supplying water to Mount Washington and some surrounding areas, causing low pressure.

No fatalities had been reported by late Thursday, and there was so much damage small and large that officials were loath to put a dollar figure to it. Fences and yard furnishings were ruined, roads blocked, beloved oaks felled. Andrea Alarcon, president of the Board of Public Works, said city officials had received 120 calls of fallen street trees and limbs by 8 a.m. Thursday.

In some communities, officials said it would be days, perhaps next week, before roads were cleared. Power outages were so widespread that officials in cities such as San Marino and Temple City estimated that more than 75% of the residents were without electricity.

So many lost electricity that the University of California offered the possibility of reprieves on its Nov. 30 application deadlines to last-minute applicants stymied by blackouts.

And the storm seemed to save some of its most malicious tricks, Grinch-like, for Christmas preparations:

It wreaked havoc on Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane, snapped the top of the 100-foot tree at Americana at Brand in Glendale and blew over Monrovia's city Christmas tree, forcing officials to postpone the community's annual lighting ceremony and Christmas parade.

The Americana mall set about repairing its tree by inserting steel rods into the trunk so the top portion could be reattached. But in Monrovia, though residents called City Hall to talk about the fallen tree — a 50-foot evergreen used in Christmas festivities for years — officials were swamped with calls about power outages.

PHOTOS: Sana Ana wind damage

abby.sewell@latimes.com

sam.quinones@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writers David Zahniser, Ann M. Simmons and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report

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