Santa Ana winds blow through Southland toppling trees, power lines

Fallen tree crushes two cars at the Providence Christian College
Fallen tree crushes two cars at the Providence Christian College
Justin Bleeker

Some of the most powerful Santa Ana winds in years ripped through Southern California, delaying and diverting flights, toppling trees and power lines and knocking out power to thousands.

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The strongest winds were expected early Thursday into Friday with damaging wind gusts of 80 mph or greater through mountain passes and 60 mph or greater in coastal and valley locations, the National Weather Service said.

A wind gust of 97 mph was recorded Wednesday night at Whitaker Peak in Los Angeles County, according to the weather service.

A shift in the wind's direction is expected to occur Thursday night, blowing weaker winds into the San Gabriel Valley and L.A. coastal areas. Areas including the L.A. County Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu, which received heavy winds last night, will continue to be hit by powerful gusts this evening.

Although schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District School will remain open today, other districts throughout Southern California have been closed due to power outages and other effects of the windstorm. All South Pasadena schools, extended day care and pre-schools will be closed today but are expected to reopen on Friday.

The Los Angeles Times reports a ton of school districts are closed today as well.

Twenty-three flights were diverted and several delayed at Los Angeles International airport, officials said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said about 20 diverted flights were sent to Ontario International Airport in Riverside County Wednesday because of severe crosswinds and two runways were closed due to strewn debris.

"Aircraft are now landing regularly. All four runways are now open and the winds have died down," said Gregor. "We're starting to bring the Ontario diversions into LAX, and are cautiously optimistic the worst wind conditions are behind us — for now."

Still, the airport said later that 10 airlines were reporting delays in both arriving and departing flights, while three international flights had been diverted.

Lights went out in the passenger terminals and on surrounding roads for about an hour Wednesday evening, causing flight and road traffic delays, airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.

The airport said passengers should check the status of flights before coming to the airport Thursday.

Power company officials said that 75,000 customers in the Los Angeles area were without power after the winds downed trees and power lines.

Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Maychelle Yee said that power was out to 50,000 of its customers. By 10 a.m. Thursday, the department reported that 129,000 of its 1.4 million electric customers were without power.

She said the most extensive outages were in Playa Del Rey, Del Rey, Westchester, Venice, Hollywood, Beverly Grove, Van Nuys and Encino.

As of Thursday morning, Venice and Highland Park were two of the neighborhoods hit the hardest. Venice had 12,000 customers affected by outages while Highland Park had 14,700.

LADWP currently has over 100 crews responding to over 1,000 separate incidents and are working to restore power as quickly and safely to our customers. They are strongly encouraging the public to stay away from any downed power lines and downed trees and tree limbs.

If a power line falls on your car, they encourage you to stay in the car and wait for help. If you must get out, make sure you do not touch the metal parts of the car and the ground at the same time. Also stay away from metal fences, such as chain link fences, as there may be a power line down and touching the fence somewhere beyond your sight.

In the event of a power outage, LADWP suggests turning off all lights except one, so that you'll know when your service is restored.

Southern California Edison spokeswoman Vanessa Mcgrady said 25,500 customers lost power Wednesday night. The hardest hit areas were Altadena, La Canada, La Crescenta, Pasadena and the South Bay.

Crews were working through the night to restore power.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a gas station in Pasadena was damaged after a tree fell onto the gas pumps. Pasadena police Lt. Jari Faulkner said an employee shut off the pumps, so no fuel leaked.

"We probably have over 100 trees that are down and arcing wires and transformers that have blown," Faulkner said. She added that some neighborhoods are completely without power, including in Altadena.

In a statement, the Pasadena police department urged residents to limit their travel during the wind storm.

The Santa Ana winds are generated during cooler months when westward flowing currents reach fierce speeds as they squeeze through mountain ranges of Southern California, lowering humidity and making vegetation susceptible to fire.

A red flag warning of high fire danger was in effect beginning Wednesday night due to low humidity and strong winds. The Los Angeles Fire Department said it was boosted staffing.

The fire department said it battled winds up to 80 mph to put out a two acre grass fire on the grounds near Occidental College.

Spokesman Brian Humphrey said police evacuated some people before the department arrived and he didn't have details.

Both air and ground crews fought the blaze before putting it out in just less than two hours.

There were no reports of injury or damage to buildings.

Winds blew down trees in many areas, damaging a car in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, where AM radio station KNX1070 lost power to its transmitter and took to streaming online only.

Another felled tree damaged a home in a neighborhood north of Beverly Hills.

Power was out through the Marina Peninsula and beach areas of Venice, including the pier. Some area restaurants remained open using candlelight and flashlights.

Homes also lost power in Laurel Canyon, the community tucked into the hollows of hills between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.