Tornado-Like Winds, Rain Lash Southland

Times Staff Writers

Tornado-like winds ripped up parts of Anaheim, torrential rains triggered mud slides in several places, and a 9-year-old boy was swept away in the swift current of the Los Angeles River on Sunday as a powerful and fast-moving storm rumbled through Southern California.

The National Weather Service predicted more rain and wind overnight, but said things should be clearing by this afternoon--with still another storm possible before the end of the week.

Meteorologists declined to call the Anaheim windstorm a tornado.

"Tornadoes are most unusual in this part of the world," a Weather Service official said. "We will investigate the event in Orange County and try to determine whether it was a tornado or not--but at this time we cannot confirm such a phenomenon."

Nonetheless, tornado watches were officially in effect throughout the day for San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Santa Barbara and three other Southern California counties Sunday.

In San Diego County, thunderstorms accompanied by gusty winds caused sporadic flooding and hazardous driving conditions throughout the area, while heavy snows were recorded in the mountains and a small-craft warning remained in effect amid heavy surf at beaches. Despite the severe weather, officials said damage was limited in San Diego and only one serious traffic accident was reported.

Most residents of Anaheim seemed to agree on what kind of wind hit their town just before dawn.

'We're Calling It a Tornado'

"For want of a better term, we're calling it a tornado," Anaheim Public Information Officer Sheri Erlewine said.

The incident began at 5:30 a.m., when residents in East Street apartments heard loud, rapid explosions and felt heavy winds rattling their windows. Some phoned in fire reports when they saw sparks flying from power lines and bright lights in the sky.

At that moment, officials said, heavy winds bore down on a four-block area of Rose Street between Santa Ana and East streets. The storm smashed in the metal doors of several factories, shattered windows and ripped out chunks of at least eight roofs.

Neighbors awakened by the storm looked out their windows and saw chunks of Styrofoam flying through the air. Erlewine explained that the materials had blown out of containers at the Hitachi packing plant several streets away and blanketed the neighborhood for miles.

Elsewhere, powerful winds snapped an East Street "No Parking" sign in two and hurled it into the street. An apartment door was torn from its frame and blown onto a front lawn 100 feet away. Two large trucks in the Hitachi plant flipped over on their sides.

No major injuries were reported, but city officials estimated that damage could total at least $500,000.

A few hours later, however, authorities said the storm may have claimed its first life.

Police, firefighters and lifeguards were searching for a 9-year-old Compton boy, who was swept into the swift waters of the Los Angeles River.

"He was sitting in an inner tube, and just went sliding down the sloping side of the flood control channel," Long Beach Police Lt. Norman Benson said. "We're hoping maybe he got to the side and got up, but the longer we don't find anything, the worse it looks."

The inner tube was found a mile downstream, but there was no sign of the boy, who was not immediately identified.

Two men and a woman were arrested on suspicion of trespassing later in the day after they made a successful two-mile voyage in Coyote Creek. Lakewood sheriff's deputies and La Palma police arrested the trio as they pulled their inflatable raft from the water at Cerritos Regional Park. Deputies said the rafters said they made the trip as "practice" for a wilderness rafting trip later this year.

Heavy rainfall caused a new slide of mud and rocks onto northbound lanes of Pacific Coast Highway, forcing the California Highway Patrol to close the road between Topanga Boulevard and Las Flores Canyon Road.

In San Diego, officials reported sporadic flooding at flood-prone areas such as Mission Valley and the low-lying streets near the international border.

Area police reported numerous weather-related traffic mishaps, but only one was reported to be serious.

In that incident, a San Diego police officer who was issuing a traffic citation on Mission Boulevard was injured late Saturday when an ambulance veered out of control in heavy rain and struck the officer, pinning him between two cars.

Officer Mike Prutzman, 35, was listed in stable condition Sunday at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, a hospital spokeswoman said. His most serious injury was a fractured pelvis, the spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, police required motorists to have chains on their tires to drive on some snow-covered mountain roads. Heavy snow was falling at elevations above 4,000 feet, and scores of San Diegans were reported to be driving to the mountains to have a look at the snowstorm. More than a foot of snow was expected in high elevations.

At the beaches, a small-craft advisory and heavy surf advisory remained in effect, with breakers of 6 to 10 feet recorded and the possibility of some waves as high as 16 feet.

Wind gusts of up to 35 m.p.h. were also reported.

In the 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Sunday, Lindbergh Field received 1.06 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

The latest thunderstorm continues an unusually wet year for San Diegans.

So far this season, San Diego has received 12.52 inches of rain--5.01 inches more than normal for that period of time.

There were no confirmed tornado sightings in San Diego on Sunday, although officials said there were a number of unconfirmed reports.

Power Outage

In Glendale, water overflowed from the Melwood and Campbell reservoirs after a broken water main caused a power pole to collapse, triggering a local power outage that crippled pumps at the two small reservoirs.

About 2,000 Department of Water and Power customers in the Eagle Rock and West Los Angeles areas were without power for several hours as a result of the storm, and the Southern California Edison Co. said about 2,000 customers in the Lake Arrowhead area were blacked out because of tree branches that fell on a major transmission line.

And in Beverly Hills, entertainer Gene Kelly was grand marshal to a rain-soaked St. Patrick's Day Parade down a green carpeted Rodeo Drive (temporarily re-christened "Emerald Mile" for the occasion).

Such stars as James Stewart, Ernest Borgnine, Fred MacMurray, Pia Zadora, Dennis Weaver, Jennifer O'Neill, Tom Bosley, Hal Linden and Mike the Dog from the hit film "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" took part in the event.

But the bad weather kept all but about 2,500 to 3,000 hardy souls at home instead of lining the sidewalks, and even Grand Marshal Kelly's spirits seemed a bit dampened.

He declined to do a reprise of "Singing In the Rain."


Rainfall past 24 hours 1.06 in. Rainfall this month 2.77 in. Rainfall since July 1 12.52 in. Total last season 9.01 in. Normal rainfall 7.51 in.

Sunday 4 p.m. rainfall figures from San Diego's Lindbergh Field. Season runs July 1 to June 30.

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