Rainstorm causes power outages, downed trees

A tree fell across Columbus Street in busy the North Beach district of San Francisco.
March 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The third storm to sweep through the Bay Area intensified on Friday, bringing heavy rains, thunder and lightning. The storm caused power outages to thousands of people in the East Bay and caused some trees to fall. The wet weather conditions also may have caused a fatal road accident on Highway 17 Friday morning.

Power Outages:

Power was restored to some 22,000 customers in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Concord that were without power on Friday night. The cause of the power outage is unknown at this time, but lightning strikes were reported in the early evening.

In San Francisco there were 5,700 customers without power in the Outer Sunset District, but power was returned to them by 11 p.m. Also, in the Marina District 1,040 customers were without power for roughly three hours.

East Bay

Friday night, Contra Costa fire units were called to Bancroft Road at the Contra Costa Canal because of reports that a young man may have entered the water. There were conflicting reports as to whether anyone had actually gone into the canal, but crews responded out of an abundance of caution, partly due to weather and also because last year there were two teenagers who died in the area while trying to raft the creek. A Contra Costa fire spokesperson told ABC7 that the results of their search did not produce evidence of anyone entering the water.

Late Friday night, ABC7 learned that a tree had fallen on Highway 13 in Oakland, not far from where a fatal accident was caused by a downed tree Thursday morning. The tree that fell on Friday was blocking the southbound direction of Highway 13 near Park Boulevard exit and at least one car had already hit it. Friday night the CHP was advising that people stay away from that area and use alternate routes.

In the Rossmoor area of Walnut Creek residents were dealing with the loss of power Friday afternoon. Area businesses were forced to go dark at the peak of busy Friday shopping. A Safeway store clerk said about 40 people waited around for a short time to see if the registers and power were going to come back on, but they had to leave the store empty handed. The exact cause of the power outage has not yet been determined, but PG&E did manage to restore the power to everyone around midnight.

In Lafayette, an old oak tree fell across Happy Valley Road. It took a public works crew a while to cut it up and clear the roadway.

"The hillsides are pretty saturated. They're just old trees and stuff. When there's too much water they just go where they go," said Dan Williams of the Contra Costa County Public Works Department.

In other areas, dry streets transformed into treacherous stretches of road that included some flooding, including on the Orinda side of the Caldecott Tunnel.

Although it has rained pretty steadily for the past several days, rain levels are still below average in the East Bay. The hope is that levels will reach somewhere close to average by the time the season is over.

San Francisco

In San Francisco the storm knocked down at tree Friday night, in the heart of North Beach. It fell onto a car near the corner of Columbus and Broadway. The car was badly damaged, but no one was hurt. Columbus was closed from Broadway to Green Street while crews cleared away the debris.

Earlier in the day, public work crews spent the day preparing the storm drain system. Public Utilities Commission trucks worked to suck out debris from clogged drains. Extra crews are on standby for the weekend.

The city's storm drains are well equipped to handle the slow and steady rain that has fallen so far. "Generally this kind of rain is great. It comes down at a slow and steady pace over a long period of time. What you're most concerned with for the sewer system is when you get a lot of rain in a short period of time," said SFPUC spokesperson Tyrone Jue.

The rainfall is a good thing for San Francisco's Hetch Hetchy water supply. The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is still full despite only get 33 percent of average rainfall for this time of year. The reservoir is full from getting so much rain last year.

Santa Cruz Mountains

Navigating the twists and turns of Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains can be a challenge, so with the slick roads and the saturated grounds, the CHP helped monitor the speed of drivers coming down the mountain. They said they would have crews monitoring the highway throughout the night due to the dangerous conditions.

The steady rain may have played a part in a deadly head-on collision near the summit of Highway 17 on Friday morning.

The driver of a Nissan Altima was killed when he lost control of his car at the intersection of Highway 17 and Laurel Road. The 57-year-old man from Brentwood in Contra Costa County was heading south when he drifted into the northbound lanes and hit two cars.

It's still unknown why the driver lost control. CHP Officer Tracy Thompson said, "At this point it's unknown why he lost control. The road is wet, however, that may have contributed to it. However, at this point in the investigation, it's still ongoing and it's still unknown."

Traffic in both directions on Highway 17 was stopped for more than an hour as a result of the accident. CHP has not released the driver's identity. The driver and passengers in the Toyota 4Runner that the Altima hit suffered serious injuries.

The streach of road where the collision happened is notorious for accidents. Over a six-year span from 2004 to 2010, one out of every four accidents on the Santa Cruz side of Highway 17 happened on the same curve.

Caltrans plans to resurface the section of the roadway with a high friction substance that will give it a sandpaper like grip. The thin one-eighth inch epoxy is being used in a number of locations around the state. Caltrans is also planning to install an electronic warning sign that shows drivers their speed as they approach the curve.

North Bay

By the end of Friday, Kentfield and San Anselmo have received close to 12 inches of rain, which is twice the monthly average. But the level of the San Anselmo Creek was only five feet, which is less than halfway to flood stage. In Schellville in Sonoma County, portions of Highway 12 and Highway 121 were flooded and the CHP had to close them late Friday afternoon.

The real impact from the rain has been from trees falling on houses. In Camp Meeker in Western Somona County, a large fir tree with a shallow root system scored a direct hit on two homes Friday morning, demolishing the roof and crushing the contents of one. Nobody was inside either home when the tree crashed through.

As the rain continues to fall and the ground becomes more saturated every day, more of the same is expected.

Although the rainfall has caused some damage to homes, it has also eased concerns about the water supply. Sonoma County has modified its water supply status from "extremely dry" to merely "dry," which means no restrictions for residents there this summer.

In Mill Valley a viewer sent in a photo to uReport of a large tree that came crashing down in the afternoon.

Air Travel

Some flights were running up to three hours late at SFO on Friday. Many short haul flights to places like Sacramento, Monterey, and the Los Angeles area were canceled.

Oakland and San Jose airports reported a few flight delays of 20 minutes or less.

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ABC7's Nick Smith, Tomas Roman, Ama Daetz, Wayne Freedman, Heather Ishimaru, Mark Matthews and Laura Anthony contributed to this story.


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