The bitter polar freeze that has brought the coldest temperatures in decades claimed its first Southland victim in Anaheim, and growers worked feverishly to minimize serious frost damage to Orange County’s multimillion-dollar agriculture industry, authorities said Sunday.
A 57-year-old homeless man found convulsing under a trailer outside a market Saturday afternoon died of hypothermia, an autopsy confirmed Sunday. Orange County Deputy Coroner Dan Machian said the man is believed to be the first person to die of exposure this season.
His name was withheld pending notification of relatives. The manager of JAX Market said the man was known as “Javier” and had been a fixture outside the store for at least two years.
“To be honest, I’m surprised he made it the night before,” store manager John Lloyd said. “It’s been real cold.”
Meanwhile, growers who had bundled up to battle frost for a third consecutive night said Sunday that they so far have managed to protect the county’s $168-million nursery and strawberry crops from serious damage.
“We had no damage, but that’s because we were running sprinklers on the fields,” said Dick Miller, vice president of Murai Farms, whose strawberry field near Laguna Canyon Road was swathed in icy sheets long after dawn broke Sunday.
“The water encases the plants in ice, so they stay at 32 degrees and don’t get any colder no matter what the outside temperature is,” Miller said, adding that readings in various Murai fields in central and southern Orange County dipped to 25 and 26 degrees early Sunday.
With forecasts calling for only slightly warmer temperatures early today and on Christmas Day, Miller and others said they’d be back out tending citrus, avocado, strawberry and ornamental nursery plants through the night.
San Juan Capistrano again posted Orange County’s official frosty low of 27 degrees--down a notch from 28 degrees recorded early Saturday morning by the National Weather Service. But it was still a degree shy of the unofficial county record of 26 set on Dec. 23, 1930, in Tustin, according to local historian Jim Sleeper. Sunday’s high in Orange County ranged from 60 in Santa Ana down to 52 in Newport Beach and Anaheim.
Light frost warnings remained in effect Sunday night, and the National Weather Service said even the current warming trend won’t bring the mercury to normal by the end of the week. Lows Monday night were expected to be in the low to mid-30s in the Anaheim-Santa Ana area, with highs climbing to the low 60s on Tuesday.
From Huntington Beach to Mission Viejo, there were scattered reports Sunday of busted water lines, especially the plastic variety that can become brittle, Huntington Beach Water Department worker Mike Newton said.
Police who work overnight patrols have been cranking up their heaters to stay warm.
“When it’s this cold, even the crooks stay inside,” Westminster Police Lt. Philip Marshall joked.
Even nudists were forced to bundle up.
Flo Nilson, owner and manager of the McConville camp, was swaddled in a turtleneck, a sweater, a heavy jumpsuit and a bright red wool cap Sunday as she greeted visitors to the secluded colony in Cleveland National Forest. Year-round residents at the mountain camp about 22 miles east of San Juan Capistrano said they had measured temperatures as low as 24 degrees Saturday night.
“People who know I’m a nudist always ask me, ‘What do you do in the cold weather?’ ” said Jim VanMarter, 46, as he sat by a roaring fire drinking hot coffee Sunday afternoon. “I do the same thing everyone else does: I put clothes on.”
The foul weather has driven many to the National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana, which have been providing temporary food and shelter for more than 200 people a night, shelter officials. Another 11 were put up Saturday night at a Unitarian Church in Laguna Beach, the first of the local congregations to provide shelter under a city-sponsored program in which they rotate each month.
But not all homeless people seek out shelters, which are limited in food, cots and blankets.
“Javier” could be found huddled in blankets under the Anaheim recycling center trailer even on the coldest nights, JAX manager Lloyd said.
“There were all kinds of stories that one time he’d had a good job,” said Lloyd, who recalled the man as a bone-thin, bearded man who stood about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, looked to be in his 80s and always wore a baseball cap.
“Everybody gave him money. People would just walk by and toss money at him--dimes, quarters, even dollars sometimes.
“We have a girl here who tried to feed him once in awhile. . . . Unfortunately, he was a stubborn old guy. He really didn’t want too much besides booze and cigarettes.”
Lloyd said Javier had been in deteriorating health in the months before his death Saturday at 1:52 p.m. in the emergency room at Western Medical Center-Anaheim.
Paramedics took him away a few weeks ago, Lloyd said. But two days later, he was back. In the last several days, he got around only by using a shopping cart as a sort of a walker.
It was about 1 p.m. Saturday when a recycling center employee tried to coax “Javier” into the sunshine. By then, he was convulsing, and paramedics again were called, Lloyd said.
Outside the Santa Ana armory on Warner Avenue at dusk Sunday, 53 people were huddled in blankets or clutching sleeping bags and grocery sacks full of belongings. As they waited for the shelter to open, few were surprised at word of one homeless man’s death from the cold.
Some said they just come to eat a hot meal, then return to their cars for the night.
“I know one guy who walked three miles to a homeless dinner because he didn’t want to use the gas,” said one homeless man who gave his name only as “John.”
“He leaves his car parked in the parking lot and walks 3 miles for free lunch and walks back just so he can use the gas at night to stay warm,” John said. “Pretty sad, huh?”
TEMPERATURES DURING THE COLD SNAP
Thursday, Dec. 20: high/low Anaheim 56/40 El Toro 53/44 Newport Beach* 53/47 San Juan Capistrano** 55/45 Santa Ana 57/44 Friday, Dec. 21: Anaheim 52/33 El Toro 47/37 Newport Beach*** 53/42 San Juan Capistrano 51/35 Santa Ana 53/37 Saturday, Dec. 22: Anaheim 49/34 El Toro 51/36 Newport Beach 49/34 San Juan Capistrano 56/28 Santa Ana 55/34 Sunday, Dec. 23: Anaheim 52/39 El Toro 56/35 Newport Beach 52/34 San Juan Capistrano 58/27 Santa Ana 60/32
* Rainfall: .06
** Rainfall: .28
*** Rainfall: trace
Last Year’s Normal Date High/Low High/Low High/Low Record Low Dec. 19 60/48 68/50 68/44 36 in 1948 Dec. 20 57/44 66/44 68/44 28 in 1949 Dec. 21 53/37 69/44 67/43 26 in 1949 Dec. 22 55/34 76/43 68/44 28 in 1949 Dec. 23 60/32 86/45 67/44 30 in 1949
Sources: National Weather Service and WeatherData Inc.