LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A powerful wind storm with gale-force gusts left much of the Los Angeles area strewn with toppled trees and downed power lines on Thursday, slowing traffic, damaging homes and knocking out electricity to over 350,000 customers.
An hourlong power outage at Los Angeles International Airport forced nearly two dozen inbound commercial flights to divert to other airports, and flight delays lingered even after electricity was restored, LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.
Damaging high winds also extended into other regions of the West, including Utah, where power was cut to an additional 55,000 residents, and 10 tractor-trailer trucks were tipped over by crosswind gusts north of Salt Lake City.
Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency as a result of the winds, a move that hastens the ability of state and federal authorities to provide assistance, said Tony Bell, a spokesman for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich.
Classes were canceled for thousands of public school students in the area, and utility crews worked to restore electricity and remove uprooted trees and fallen limbs that littered neighborhoods, blocking streets in many places.
Widespread power failures left traffic lights on the blink at many intersections.
Homes and parked automobiles were clobbered by fallen trees, with 42 damaged houses and apartment units declared unsafe for habitation by early afternoon in hard-hit Pasadena, but no serious injuries have been reported. A service station in Pasadena was demolished by a large uprooted tree.
The advent of high winds put fire departments throughout the region on alert for a high risk of wildfires.
Winds snapped off the top of a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree at an open-air shopping plaza in suburban Glendale, and another giant holiday tree in the nearby town of Monrovia was upended.
Janelle Brown, 38, said the house she and her husband moved into a week ago in Los Angeles's Silver Lake neighborhood narrowly escaped a direct hit from a large 100-year-old pepper tree that was uprooted in their backyard overnight.
"We woke up this morning, looked out the window, and realized it was gone," she told Reuters, adding she and her husband never heard it fall.
"We lay in bed until 1:30 in the morning listening to the cracks and the pops and the wind rattling the windows, and then finally fell asleep," she said.
Brown, a novelist, said some branches from the tree came to rest on top of her house, and "there's a little bowing in the roof, but from what we can tell, we got lucky."
Public schools in Pasadena and 11 other districts in San Gabriel Valley, northeast of Los Angeles, were closed for the day, though the Los Angeles Unified School District said it would remain open.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest public utility, reported nearly 130,000 customers were without electricity Thursday morning.
Southern California Edison, which serves areas outside the city of Los Angeles, said outages that began Wednesday night had affected more than 225,000 homes and businesses.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)