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High winds leave thousands without power in California

LOS ANGELES | Sun Dec 4, 2011 5:23pm EST

(Reuters) - High winds returned to the Los Angeles area early on Saturday as over 100,000 homes and businesses lost power, due to fallen trees and other damage from an ongoing windstorm.

Southern California Edison said that at mid-afternoon it still had 73,600 customers affected by the outages, which were mainly concentrated along the San Gabriel Valley foothills east of Pasadena.

The area saw "near hurricane force winds" that caused flying debris to knock over power poles, said Edison spokesman Gil Alexander.

Unusually powerful winds first began striking the Los Angeles region on Wednesday night, in a storm that has raised concern among local fire departments about potential wildfires igniting and spreading at lightning speed.

By mid-morning on Saturday, wind gusts of 73 miles per hour were clocked atop a mountain near Acton, 30 miles northeast of Los Angeles, according to automated weather stations.

At other places of high elevation closer to the metropolis, wind speeds in the 35 mph to 45 mph range were more common.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department staged 290 additional firefighters to wildfire-prone areas.

The most immediate concern for officials and power providers was restoring electricity.

Early on Saturday, Southern California Edison had 103,000 homes and businesses without power in the areas it serves near Los Angeles, before it restored electricity to some of those customers, Alexander said.

Los Angeles itself was also hit by the outages, with about 17,000 customers of the Department of Water and Power still without electricity. The agency serves 1.4 million accounts.

The National Weather Service said a gentler wind pattern would develop later on Saturday, as a high pressure system builds over the region.

But the dry, seasonal gusts that have hit Southern California in recent days and are known locally as the Santa Ana winds will again develop on Monday and persist into Tuesday, the Weather Service said.

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