With crews swamped, San Gabriel Valley residents pitch in to clear yards of broken limbs and downed trees. For some, it's a reminder to update their disaster plan.
By Esmeralda Bermudez and Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
December 3, 2011
The fiercest windstorm in a decade may have caught Laurie Amaya off guard, but on Friday, she was quick to find a solution to the sea of debris blanketing her yard in South Pasadena.
Rather than rake for three hours, the attorney hit up her neighbor's gardener.
"Hey, how much to clean it all up?"
"$40," the man said. She offered $30, and the deal was done. Minutes later, her yard was pristine once more.
Across the most wind-swept areas, Southern Californians got moving in the scrappiest ways to clean up after Mother Nature. Many knew city crews were overwhelmed with calls.
By Friday evening, more than 100,000 homes still lacked power around the region, and some faced the prospect of spending the weekend without electricity. Officials said thousands of trees were uprooted by the winds, including 400 in Griffith Park. City crews raced to remove trees and other debris that still blocked some side streets.
Residents, meanwhile, reached for their rakes, loppers, cutters and trash bags. Those with children at home put them to work. Those without electricity stocked up on candles and flashlights. And those without water were showering at the gym or relying on wet wipes.
At Berg Hardware in Pasadena, homeowners lined up to buy hand saws and trade stories.
One woman got trapped in her driveway. One man ended up with a tree on top of his car. Another lost most of his windows.
"I'm telling you," customer Mike Paulson half-joked with a worker. "Who says we don't get tornadoes around here? I'm cleaning up branches, twigs, leaves, dirt, sand, you name it."
Pasadena, a city known for its trees, paid a heavy price. It lost 450 street trees, city officials said. That doesn't include trees on private property or in city parks, which will probably run into the hundreds.
City Manager Michael Beck said it was possible that every street in Pasadena lost at least one tree.
On Mercedes Avenue, giant knots of branches littered the block, making it impossible to park in most places. Mo Huckler and her neighbors were hard at work, breaking them down to help city workers.
The residents are a tightknit group who rely on a phone tree and the advice of a firefighter neighbor to help one another.
"This gave us the chance to rethink our disaster plan," said Huckler, a director at a local church.
In Temple City, where three-quarters of the town was still without power Friday afternoon, close to 200 trees collapsed. Thirty homes were damaged and 17 utility poles came down.
Still, things could have been much worse.
The area has notably fewer trees than neighboring towns. A lot were torn out in a recent mansion-building boom, said city spokesman Brian Haworth. Many of the mansion owners are Chinese immigrants with a faith in feng shui. They build their homes without trees near the front to allow more energy to enter.
Kevin Snaer, 46, was not as fortunate in San Marino, where the chirps of birds mingled with the roar of chain saws along his block.
A huge pine came crashing down in his frontyard and a big eucalyptus from a city park crushed his garage and his pool house.
His biggest worry was a transformer high atop a telephone pole in his backyard. He feared more winds could knock it down and trigger an explosion.
"I've called Edison four times and can't get someone to come out here," Snaer said, surveying the damage.
He and his wife spent the afternoon clearing out furniture and fielding phone calls.
Back in South Pasadena, at least a few homeowners lucked out with the cleanup.
On Diamond Avenue, a TV commercial crew scheduled to film Friday morning brought in their own workers to scoop up the mess. They filled six dumpsters in six hours to make room for a dozen trucks.
"Folks were pretty happy to see us," said location manager Bryan Bird. "I'm sure they'll be even happier once we're gone."
Others, looking to make money, did what they could to make themselves useful.
Efrain Pinto, owner of Efrain's Garden Service and Construction, planned to knock on doors in South Pasadena and offer his services. His son and brother were on hand to help, along with his old, trusty truck, stocked with rakes, trash bins and a leaf blower.
"$40, $50 each yard, why not?" he said. "This will be the busiest we've been in years."
At Cliff's Discount Glass in Pasadena, Cliff Johnson agreed. For the first time in years, he found himself turning away customers. Churches, medical centers, shopkeepers and homeowners swamped his phone line, calling to replace cracked and blown-out windows.
Alone at the shop, Johnson did the best he could to keep up. "Winds and earthquakes," he said. "They're good for business — if you can keep your sanity."