Zoo Fails to Open for 1st Time as Result of Lashing by Storm

Times Staff Writer

For the first time in its 72-year history, the San Diego Zoo failed to open Monday. It was closed so groundskeepers could clear exhibits and pathways of dozens of broken tree limbs, dangling branches and leaning tree trunks caused by gale-force winds.

"The forecast for gusting winds today made it unsafe for people to be wandering through the zoo," said zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett. "Because of dangling branches and fallen debris, some areas of the zoo were inaccessible and hazardous."

There was only one animal casualty of the storm, a rare male Satin Bower bird, which died Sunday night when it became frightened, flew into the wires of its cage, fell into a pool and drowned, Jouett said. The bird was housed in a walk-through area located at the center of the zoo.

Otherwise, animals were unharmed when about 35 to 40 trees--some 100 feet tall--fell into exhibits housing zebras, bongos, rhinoceroses, tapirs, sika deer, mountain goats and European bison.

He estimated damage to the trees at $175,000, adding that the falling limbs also caused $50,000 damage to zoo structures.

Amphitheatre Damaged

Suffering the most structural damage was the 1,500-seat Hunte Amphitheatre, where three eucalyptus trees fell and covered the top half of the seating area. The trees also blocked an entrance path to the amphitheater, which was being used for Panda Aerobics for schoolchildren.

The Wegerforth Bowl, an animal exhibit area, was damaged extensively. Supports for a shade roof that covers the bowl bent under the winds and dropped 25 feet; the roof had to be demolished.

Minor damage was reported at The Kiwi Exhibit, where five trees fell in front of the exhibit.

In addition, a trailer for the Worley Construction Co. was split in half when a eucalyptus tree fell on it. The trailer was being used as construction headquarters for the Tiger River project, a new attraction scheduled to open in March. The project suffered only minor damage and construction was resumed Monday.

The zoo on Monday called in a crane, bulldozer and several large trucks to help zoo workers with the cleanup.

Jouett said the zoo had taken steps to shield animals from the storm.

"To protect the animals from the storm, the animal keepers stayed until midnight trying to place the animals into holding areas underneath or behind the exhibit areas," Jouett said.

However, zoo officials were concerned that fallen branches and trees might be used by carnivorous animals to escape.

"There is always a concern that a tiger, lion or bear will use a fallen tree as a bridge to escape," Jouett said. "In the lion exhibit we had bamboo fall down, but fortunately the bamboo wasn't big enough for the lion to use."

The zoo also closed in 1982 because of the weather, but that was after it had already been opened for a half-hour.

Jouett said that a large crowd had been expected for Monday.

"Today was a holiday and we were expecting a lot of school kids -- about 10,000 visitors."

The zoo was expected to reopen today but Jouett added, "We just have to wait and see what the weather is like. A lot of the hanging branches are down. But even if the zoo opens some areas will be closed for repair."

Elsewhere in Balboa Park, some trees were uprooted by the winds, exposing roots 10 to 12 feet long.

Two fallen eucalyptus trees, ranging between 35 feet and 40 feet long, were lying at the corner of President Way and the Pan American Plaza.

Trees were also blown over at the intersections of El Prado and Balboa streets, and Juniper Street and Sixth Avenue.

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