A whirlwind of trouble

December 1, 2011 

Two historic deodars were toppled in Los Feliz by windstorms. Photo courtesy of City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

For more than 75 years, majestic deodar cedars have lined Los Feliz Boulevard along Griffith Park. The imposing trees are an indelible part of the neighborhood’s character—and such a significant slice of the Los Angeles landscape that they’ve been granted cultural landmark status.

But no amount of civic protection could spare two of the beloved giants from the savage winds sweeping through the county this week. They were among hundreds of trees damaged or uprooted as gusts of wind approaching 100 miles an hour slammed Southern California, downing power lines and wreaking havoc including widespread outages, road closures and “wind days” in some local schools.

Much of the damage has been centered in San Gabriel Mountain foothill communities such as Pasadena, San Gabriel, Arcadia and Sierra Madre.

But the winds have left their mark on the Westside and the San Fernando Valley as well.

The toppled Los Feliz deodars, their massive roots completely unearthed, served as a powerful reminder of the winds’ damaging potential.

The trees, located in a stretch of some 200 deodars that together are classified as city Historical Cultural Landmark 67, were planted as part of a civic beautification movement in 1935.

The landmark designation means that they may not be pruned without official approval—but the winds did not play by the rules.

Deodars have long helped create a sense of place in Los Feliz.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district is home to the trees, said the damage came as part of “the worst windstorm I have ever seen in the City of Los Angeles.”

“We don’t like to lose any of them,” said Donald Seligman, president of the Los Feliz Improvement Association, which maintains the trees. “They’re very unique for Los Angeles.”

With more high winds on the way, officials are urging extreme caution around power lines and trees. If you encounter a downed or dangling line, stay away from it and call 911 immediately. If you can, stay indoors, but don’t use the elevators, which could stall if there is a power outage.

To report damage to roads in unincorporated Los Angeles County, the number is 1-800-675-HELP (4357.)

More wind safety tips, from the Los Angeles City Fire Department, are here. And updated information on school closures, power outages and a recently-opened emergency shelter in Pasadena is here, along with a list of other helpful links.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, chair of the Board of Supervisors, declared a state of emergency in the county on Thursday afternoon, clearing the way for state and federal assistance. The cities of Pasadena, Sierra Madre and Monrovia also have declared local emergencies in the wake of the wind-borne devastation.

The urban forestry division of the city Department of Street Services was among the many agencies scrambling to stay on top of the damage Thursday morning.

“It’s pretty bad,” said chief forester George Gonzalez. “Calls are pouring in like crazy.”

Although the velocity is unusual, “wind events” typically happen three to five times a year in Los Angeles, Gonzalez said.

The ferocious Santa Ana winds are expected to continue today with gusts of up to 80 miles an hour in Southern California, the National Weather Service said. They’re part of a bigger storm that’s expected to affect the southwestern U.S. through at least Friday.

Nick Falacci took this picture of the huge tree that fell on his Pasadena house. No one was injured.

Posted 12/1/11

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