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Rain Creates Turmoil on Freeways : 11-Vehicle Pileup Ties Up Interstate 5 at San Clemente

From Times Wire Services

Intense rain blanketed much of Southern California today--spurring numerous traffic accidents, including one in San Clemente that involved as many as 11 vehicles.

The multiple-vehicle accident, which included a tractor-trailer rig, blocked all lanes of northbound Interstate 5 in San Clemente shortly after 11 a.m., according to a Highway Patrol spokesman said.

It was unknown whether there were injuries but four tow trucks were dispatched to the scene near Avenida Pico, said CHP Officer Ken Daily.

As the rainfall intensified during the morning hours, freeways throughout Orange County were marred by accidents. There was a report of an overturned tanker truck on the 91 Freeway at Valley View Street in Buena Park. And a motor home collided with a truck on the southbound San Diego Freeway at Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo.

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“We’re swamped,” a CHP dispatcher said shortly before noon. “We’ve got accidents all over the place.”

In Northern California, hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc, claiming at least one life, overturning trucks, toppling trees, ripping boats from their moorings, stalling the return of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and cutting power to more than 300,000 customers.

Overturned Candle

Authorities said Oli Ashgar, 3, died this morning when his family’s apartment was set on fire by an overturned candle that had been lit because of a power failure blamed on the winds.

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His parents and three siblings escaped with their lives, although the father, Suliman, was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns.

One man hit on the head by a falling tree branch in downtown San Jose was described as in serious condition at San Jose Medical Center.

“We’ve got downed power lines all over the place,” said Dennis Maguire, a dispatcher with the California Department of Forestry in Auburn. “There are trees falling into houses, and it’s an emergency situation.”

Winds were clocked at 102 m.p.h. atop Mt. Diablo 40 miles east of San Francisco, said meteorologist Mike Pechner. Hurricane-force winds are 74 m.p.h. or greater.

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“Sonoma looks like a war zone or disaster area,” said Sandy Hanson, a 40-year resident of the town, who said she had never before experienced winds that strong. “There is debris everywhere. Our fences and trees are down.

“It was weird. We had an outdoor refrigerator, and the wind blew the door open and spilled food all over the yard.”

The gusts left boats adrift along Richardson Bay and San Francisco Bay, the Coast Guard said. Winds howled through the waterfront, leaving heaps of debris, signs and odd hunks of metal in the streets. One boat sank at Sausalito, and several others broke loose from their moorings and were sent adrift. The Coast Guard plucked some people off their boats.

A barge near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge was blown over and dumped its load of rocks near one of the span’s towers, the Coast Guard said. The bridge was not damaged.

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Pacific Gas & Electric said more than 302,000 customers were blacked out by downed power lines and utility poles that crashed into houses and across highways and set off small fires Wednesday night and early today.


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