Calif. residents grapple with windstorm cleanup
Saturday, December 3, 2011
TEMPLE CITY, Calif. (AP) — As the hurricane-force winds that pummeled the West eased Friday, Diane Johnson stood knee high in leaves and branches, surveying a fallen tree trunk at eye level and trying to decide just how to begin the big cleanup.
A near century-old eucalyptus tree toppled over in the middle of the night, crushing all three of the family’s cars, landing at the doorstep of their Southern California home and blocking any view from their windows.
Trapped inside for hours, they were able to get out when the fire department cut them a small pathway.
“I have no idea what to do,” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Like hundreds of thousands of people in Southern California on Friday, Johnson was without electricity. And just like Johnson, residents and crews struggled to clean up smashed trees, toppled power lines and debris-strewn roadways.
Several cities in the region, the hardest hit from Wednesday night’s windstorms, were still in a state of emergency.
Schools in Pasadena and more than a dozen others in the Los Angeles Unified School District remained closed Friday.
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement Friday that schools closed because of wind damage would still receive state funding.
“I want to assure school districts that they will not lose funding if their facilities are closed or used as emergency shelters during this disaster,” Torlakson said.
In Temple City, the Los Angeles suburb where Johnson lives, a row of toppled power poles with wires attached blocked a street. The city’s main street remained a shuttered ghost town as cars inched past darkened stop lights and shop signs in Chinese.
Seventy-five percent of the city remained without power. As residents in some parts were being advised to boil water or use bottled water, others began tossing out the food in their increasingly pungent refrigerators. As many as 200 trees fell in the storms.
As the night loomed, police increased patrols and the city handed out free flashlights.
During the day, residents began cleaning up, filling trash bags with leaves and branches. Streets with older, larger trees suffered the worst damage as top-heavy trunks fell over. But many homes were spared, including that of Johnson’s next-door neighbor, Margaret Mushinskie.
The trimmed lawn at Mushinskie’s house was pristine because her husband won a years-long battle with the city to cut down the two eucalyptus trees in front of their home.
“They need to come down,” she said, expressing concern for Johnson’s son who worked two jobs for his red sports car that now sat crushed under a pile of leaves. “Those poor people. He was so proud of his car. Bless his heart.”
In the adjacent city of Arcadia, Aubreann Loving stood in the front yard of her home, watching one car after another turn onto her tiny cul-de-sac, unable to continue down a major cross street that had been blocked by a gigantic fallen tree.
Another tree crashed into her backyard, demolishing the yard’s back wall.
The 15-year-old high school sophomore was at home with her family in a house with no heat or light and a refrigerator filled with spoiling food after the city’s school district canceled classes at all 10 of its campuses for a second day.
Loving, who passed time Friday watching videos on a portable DVD player she had recharged at a friend’s home, is no stranger to school furloughs, having taken her share of snow days off in her native Iowa.
But this, she complained, was far more monotonous.
“If the power would go off, it would come back on within a few hours,” she said of elementary school days in Iowa. “But the power isn’t coming back on right away here, so it’s like there’s nothing to do.”
About 200,000 people in Southern California, more than 18,000 along California’s Central Coast and thousands more in Utah — where Thursday winds topped 100 mph — remained without electricity. Authorities said some areas might not have power restored until Sunday.
In Pasadena, among the hardest hit cities in the region, inspectors were checking more than 100 damaged buildings to see if they should be red-tagged as being too dangerous to inhabit.
One 42-unit apartment building and other structures were red-tagged Thursday and two dozen more were yellow-tagged, allowing only limited access, said Lisa Derderian, the city’s emergency management coordinator.
“Every street in Pasadena was impacted in one way or another,” she said, adding that the city’s cleanup would be expeditious. “We have the (Tournament of Roses) parade every year here so we are experts in cleanup and debris removal.”
In Northern California, authorities said a wildlife biologist working in a Big Sur redwood forest was killed when a tree fell in heavy winds. Monterey County Coroner Detective Diana Schumacher told KSBW-TV that California condor biologist Michael Tyner died after the tree fell on him Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, crews Friday battled wildfires that were sparked by power lines blown down by the wind. The winds were blamed for the destruction of at least four homes.
Aiding firefighters and those involved in the cleanup was the fact that the high winds, which had been expected to return Thursday night, never materialized. Around the state, the 60- to 80-mph gusts of the previous day had become mere breezes.
The low-pressure system that had spawned the winds was moving eastward so quickly that the National Weather Service canceled red flag warnings that predicted extreme fire danger from the gusty, dry weather.
A new system was expected to move into Arizona on Friday night, bringing a chance of more winds over the weekend, but the gusts will not be as strong, weather service meteorologist Eric Boldt said.
Nevada could get 35-mph sustained winds with gusts to 70 mph, while Wyoming and Utah could see light snow, and New Mexico was warned to expect heavier snow and freezing drizzle.
Associated Press writers John Rogers and Alicia Chang in Los Angeles, Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City, Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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