Storm whips up a tornado, four waterspouts


A powerful storm that hit the Southern California coast this afternoon caused at least one tornado, four waterspouts and winds of up to 90 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

“We have everything going today,” said weather service spokesman Bill Hoffer.

Officials are bracing for another big storm Wednesday and announced the evacuations of more than 500 homes in La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and other communities hit by Station fire. Those evacuations are supposed to start Wednesday morning.

Long Beach, Seal Beach, San Pedro and Huntington Beach were hit hardest by the fast-moving storm, which flooded streets, damaged homes, produced hail and ice and stranded cars on the 710 Freeway.

Witnesses reported seeing a tornado touch down in Sunset Beach and lift boats out of the water as it came onshore, sheriff’s officials said.

Sheriff’s deputies were responding to reports that a tornado or waterspout had touched down near Anderson Street and Pacific Coast Highway, lifting several catamarans 30 to 50 feet in the air, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jim Amormino.

Scott Seaton, 60, is the manager of the Peter’s Landing Marina in Huntington Harbour. He said he was in the office with his wife when they got a computer warning that a tornado warning had been issued.

He said they watched out the window as the “cyclone,” as Seaton described it, passed over their building and touched down in the marina. It stayed there for a while before moving down the marina, getting stronger.

At one point, Seaton said, it picked up a 40-foot catamaran and twirled it several feet in the air. The catamaran dropped back into the water on top of another boat.

There was damage to that catamaran as well as a small whaler.

“It was just amazing watching that thing dance up in the air,” he said of the catamaran. “As quick as it came it was gone. I can’t even imagine seeing a monster one because this thing seemed so powerful,” Seaton said of the funnel cloud. “When it came, it was just ‘boom.’ It was just unbelievable.”

Heavy rains caused a roof to collapse at Tropitone Furniture Co., at 5 Marconi in Irvine. Police said the company’s 115 employees evacuated the building. A woman who answered the phone at the company said no one was injured.

Hundreds of vehicles were stuck on the 710 Freeway in Long Beach this afternoon in rain-caused floods, authorities said. Firefighters tried to remove hundreds of vehicles that were floating in standing water on the freeway between Ocean Boulevard and 6th Street, said Long Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Frank Hayes.

Other rain-related flooding was reported throughout Long Beach, Hayes said, including at several intersections that were blocked with floating vehicles.

The Los Angeles Police Department has called a tactical alert and is evacuating homes in San Pedro. The department has also shut down an area between Pacific and Gaffey and 4th and 7th streets hit by the worst of the flooding. Officials said lightning hit the Conoco refinery, causing a small fire.

In Huntington Beach, the beaches were mostly empty while waves surged, lightning struck and winds reached gusts of 52 mph. The gusts topped 72 mph in Newport Beach.

Piers along the Southern California coast were being closed tas huge waves surged onto beaches and harbors.

Ventura police closed the city’s nearly 2,000-foot wooden pier this morning as a precaution; no damage was reported. But huge waves crashed near beachfront homes. “We’re expecting some pretty big surf,” said Sgt. Jack Richards.

Lifeguards also closed the Hermosa Beach Pier and were in the process of closing the Manhattan Beach Pier, according to Los Angeles County officials.

The National Weather Service issued an urban and small stream flood advisory for Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

A high surf advisory is in effect through Friday, and the weather service has issued a coastal flood watch starting tonight and extending through late Wednesday, saying very large surf combined with strong wind is expected to push water into low-lying areas during high tide.

The largest waves will appear Wednesday and Thursday, when breakers could reach as high as 25 feet.

“The surf is very large,” said Capt. Mike Patterson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division, overlooking 15-foot waves at the Hermosa Beach Pier, where gates were locked this morning. “It’s another facet of the weather.”

The storm is “a fast mover with gusty winds behind it, so it should be out of the area before midnight,” said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the weather service in Oxnard. Authorities are urging caution during the afternoon commute, when the brunt of today’s storm is expected to hit. They are also warning people to stay inside during the lightning and thunder.

“If you hear it roar, go indoors,” Seto said.

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Carla Hall, Kimi Yoshino, Jeff Gottlieb and Ruben Vives contributed to this report.