U.S.
Noah Berger / AP

Major storm disrupts Northern California

'Pineapple express' storm hit the San Francisco area, flooding freeways, snarling air traffic and causing power outages

A powerful storm churned down the West Coast on Thursday, bringing strong gales and much-needed rain and snow that caused widespread blackouts in Northern California.

San Francisco's cable car system was replaced by shuttle buses as the brunt of the storm hit the San Francisco Bay Area, flooding freeways, toppling trees and keeping thousands of people home from work and school. 

Some 276,000 customers throughout the Bay Area lost power Thursday, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.  and the city's electrified bus system was halted in many areas, transit officials said.

The Embarcadero, San Francisco's popular waterfront walkway, was closed due to flooding and some ferries were also canceled, stranding commuters.

"It's a big storm, as we expected, and it's headed south with very powerful winds and heavy rainfall," said National Weather Service meteorologist Will Pi. The storm was expected to move into Southern California in time for the Friday morning commute.

The storm was expected to provide only a small measure of relief from California's record, multi-year drought that has forced water managers to sharply reduce irrigation supplies to farmers and prompted drastic conservation measures statewide, weather officials said.

In Oregon, strong winds felled a tree, killing a homeless man who was sleeping on a trail, and a teenage boy died after a large tree fell on the vehicle in which he was riding, causing it to swerve and hit another tree.

A huge gust blew down an 80-foot fir at a Santa Cruz elementary school, pinning a sixth-grader by the arm for 15 minutes until chain saws cut him free.

The "pineapple express" storm carried warm air and vast amounts of water in a powerful current stretching from Hawaii to the mainland and up into the mountains, where gusts up to 140 mph blew through passes, damaging homes in the Lake Tahoe area.

The current left San Francisco drenched but balmy, with 60-degree temperatures, about 5 degrees above average for this time of year.

A lot of people took the day off. That's a good thing."

Bob Haus

CalTrans spokesman

Gusts of wind were so strong on the Golden Gate Bridge that managers created a buffer zone to prevent head-on collisions by swerving cars.

The suspension bridge is engineered to swing in cross winds, so "the concern we have right now is more about vehicles," spokeswoman Priya David Clemens said.

In Sonoma County, teenagers drove trucks through a flooded Safeway parking lot to make waves for kayakers in Healdsburg as grocery shoppers trudged through several feet of water to get supplies.

In San Jose, the roof of a grocery store partially collapsed, exposing a 50-square-foot hole above the produce section. One person suffered a minor injury but details were not immediately available, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

There were multiple accidents on flooded roads and Interstate 5, California's critical north-south thruway, was closed by flooding in some areas. Just north of San Francisco, in Marin County, heavy rains washed out a portion of state Route 1, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Several Bay Area school districts, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, canceled classes due to the storm, and many adults worked from home.

"A lot of people took the day off," CalTrans spokesman Bob Haus said. "That's a good thing."

Disembarking from a ferry in San Francisco, Malcolm Oubre said some people were overreacting.

"I know it's a big storm supposedly, but they're treating it like it's a hurricane."

Al Jazeera with wire services

 

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