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California

Powerful Santa Ana winds sweep across Southland

Fierce Santa Ana winds struck Wednesday evening, knocking out power to parts of Los Angeles International Airport and in several Westside and San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Fire Department and other agencies reported trees down throughout the area, including one that fell on a house on North Beverly Drive and took several power lines with it. It was unclear whether that incident caused the widespread outage.

At LAX, at least 20 flights had to be diverted to LA/Ontario International Airport and others were put in holding patterns, officials said.

The gusts have hit more than 40 knots, creating severe crosswinds for planes taking off and landing, said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Typically, pilots won’t take off or land when winds are gusting at 25 to 30 knots, Gregor said.

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In addition, the wind had strewn debris across two runways on the south side of the airport, causing officials to shut them for safety.

“We are trying to shoehorn a four-runway operation onto two runways,” Gregor told The Times. “And add into that mix periodic strong crosswinds that prevent aircraft from taking off or landing, and you have a pretty interesting evening.”

Earlier in the evening, lights were knocked out in the airport’s terminals, as were baggage screening machines and arrival and departure signs. People were using cellphones to light their way as they walked through terminals.

“Everybody seems to be pretty patient,” said Long Beach resident Jim Walters, who was in the Alaska Airlines terminal when the lights went out shortly after 7 p.m. Power was restored about an hour later.

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A downed tree forced the California Highway Patrol to close all westbound lanes of the 210 Freeway near Berkshire Place in La Cañada Flintridge. The heavy gusts also knocked out traffic signals as well as power for a time at KNX-AM (1070); the station’s transmitter in Torrance was reportedly damaged. The station was streaming online only until it could return to the air.

Southern California Edison said it had about 25,500 customers without power Wednesday evening because of the winds. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported outages throughout its service area but did not have a number of customers affected.

The National Weather Service said the winds are expected to last through Friday, with gusts up to 80 mph in the mountains. The “significant event” caused the agency to issue red flag warnings for the region. A weather service spokeswoman said the wind system would create “explosive” fire conditions across Southern California.

Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said the department was deploying its “ready reserve fleet” about 8 p.m. Wednesday. The fleet of off-duty workers includes 18 additional engine units and six brush-patrol units.

“When it comes to fire weather, wind is king,” Humphrey said. “We should be very concerned.”

National Weather Service officials expressed similar alarm, calling this round of Santa Anas a “very strong” and “rare” event. They went as far as to compare the gusts with those that helped spread destructive wildfires in Southern California in 2007, including in Malibu and San Diego County.

“People who have been here 15 years, maybe every five to 10 years or so we might see an event like this,” said weather service meteorologist Carol Smith. “If a fire were to get going, there’s very little that would hold it back.”

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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matthew.stevens@latimes.com


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