In Orange, Outage Headaches Follow Winds' Body Blow

Times Staff Writer

It was eerily quiet on Batavia Street in Orange on Tuesday, where hours earlier hurricane-force winds and a commuter train made for a destructive combination and toppled a string of power poles.

Only a gentle breeze remained. No traffic, no televisions blaring. Just the occasional sounds of banging, sawing and drilling from utility workers trying to restore power, which has been out since early Monday.

About 19,000 customers remained without electricity in Orange County, mostly in the northern and coastal areas, according to Southern California Edison spokesman Steve Nelson, who estimated that it would take two days to complete repairs.

In Orange, however, about 600 customers along Batavia could be without power until the weekend. During the windstorm, 47 power poles collapsed in the city, many brought down by a passing Metrolink train that snagged a line that had fallen across the tracks.

On Tuesday, no lights were shining at Mike Brewster's automotive repair shop on Batavia. The hydraulic lifts weren't working, and even the phones were dead.

"It's like earthquake weather, isn't it?" Brewster said of the strange peacefulness.

There was little for him and wife Linda to do except send their mechanics home and call it a day. One longtime customer will have to wait a few more days before the head gasket of his purple Pontiac Firebird gets fixed. In the meantime, the Brewsters said they were going home to fret over the $10,000 in income they figure they're losing.

"We're usually just packed," Mike Brewster said. "It's kind of nice when it's quiet. But we just got back from vacation, so we don't need a break."

Across the street, Fabiola Gutierrez-Carpenter, 32, was taking a two-day respite from her job as a teacher's aide because utility workers wouldn't let her move her car.

"I'm home and I can't even catch up on my soaps," she joked. "That's the strangest thing. I keep walking by the TV and wanting to turn it on."

Instead, many residents said they dined by candlelight on pantry staples and slightly cool leftovers. For Gutierrez-Carpenter and her husband, that meant yogurt and canned pineapple chunks, though most of the food from their fridge had to be tossed. They went to bed a little early and woke Tuesday with the sun, not their alarm clocks.

Next door, German Flores, 25, gave up waiting for Southern California Edison. He took one look at the downed poles, strewn trashcans and 220,000-volt wires on the street and quickly figured this wouldn't be a quick fix.

He and two brothers, who live with their families in a large home converted into multiple units, chipped in $620 to buy a gas-guzzling generator that would keep their refrigerators chilled.

"We had to buy it," Flores said. "We had all the milk and all the food for my baby."

Though a long stretch of Batavia remained without power, the outages were spotty. Jordan Hernandez, 9, missed class at Sycamore Elementary on Main Street and declared the entire experience "a little fun." His dad rigged a long extension cord to the house next door, where the power was still on.

A four-plex on the corner of Walnut and Batavia also escaped the loss of power.

"If people wanted to see if they were on the news, then they would run over to my house," said Robert Runner, 46.

"We just happened not to be in the way. This is not luck. I'd feel more lucky if I won the lottery."

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