Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 29, 2006

Storms topple trees, injuring one person

Power mostly restored to homes by Wednesday night

by Don Kazak

High winds, gusting up to 40 mph at times, brought down trees and knocked out power throughout the Palo Alto area Tuesday and Wednesday.

In total, there were 33 storm-related power outages in Palo Alto from Tuesday night through Wednesday afternoon, most affecting small numbers of homes, according to Russ Kamiyama, manager of electric operations for the Palo Alto Utilities department.

The largest outage affected 2,300 customers, he added.

The outages were all brief, from a half-hour to an hour, according to a department supervisor dispatching crews Wednesday. In addition, some underground-utility customers experienced brief interruptions in service due to transformers being switched to respond to the outages, the supervisor said.

All of Palo Alto's power outages were repaired by Wednesday evening except for three homes that needed to replace electric connections, Kamiyama said.

About 20 Menlo Park homes along Menalto Avenue and roughly the same number in East Palo Alto on Alberni Street remained without power Thursday morning, according to Brian Swanson of PG&E.

Several dramatic wind-related incidents occurred when trees fell on cars and homes.

The top of a redwood tree was blown off Wednesday at about 11 a.m. in Menlo Park, crushing the cab of a rental truck driving below in the 200 block of Willow Road.

The driver had to be cut from the wreckage by Menlo Park firefighters but only received minimal injuries, according to Police Sgt. Ron Prikett. The driver was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

Prickett said the tree crushed the truck's cab down to the steering wheel. He estimated the severed treetop was 3 feet in diameter and 25 to 30 feet long.

A second car was also driving under the tree when it fell, but that vehicle received only minor damage, Prikett said.

In Palo Alto's historic Professorville neighborhood, a coast live oak more than a century old was blown over at 10:15 Wednesday morning, snapping a power pole and bringing down electrical lines at 381 Lincoln Ave.

No one was injured, but a parked car was damaged. Bystanders could hardly see the vehicle underneath the mass of branches.

The tree, one of several majestic oaks on the block, probably predated the homes built there in the late 19th century by Stanford University's first faculty members, according to Dave Docktor, the city's arborist.

But while the tree looked healthy with a dark green crown of leaves, it had been badly diseased by a fungus, which hollowed out its base. The 4-to-5-foot diameter trunk only had a 2-to-6 inch ring of healthy wood near the exterior.

"It was vigorous and healthy, but also structurally unsound and ready to fall over," Docktor said.

Sarah Havern, daughter of homeowner Sally Strong, was at her mother's house when the tree was blown over. She said the lights flickered, but she wasn't sure what happened until she looked out a second-floor window and saw the toppled tree.

The base of the tree is just feet away from the home's front porch, but Docktor said the tree had a southwest lean, in the direction of the sun, and fell into the street.

From the exterior, the disease "would have been tough to identify," Docktor said.

Power went out to the immediate block, which was closed off because of the downed power lines. As of Thursday, crews were still repairing electrical lines, and removal of the tree was expected to follow as soon as the area was deemed safe.

Also, in the Crescent Park neighborhood Wednesday, a mature atlas cedar fell onto a home at 541 E. Crescent Drive. There were no reported injuries and city crews are expected to remove the tree by the weekend.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be reached at dkazak@paweekly.com. Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha contributed to this report.

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