A sharp earthquake rattled Southern California a day after snow and sleet blanketed the fire-blackened region, while hurricane-force winds pounded northern California, cutting power to hundreds of thousands and leading to three children's deaths.
The winds, clocked at up to 102 mph, died down Thursday night, shortly before the temblor hit 500 miles to the southeast in a state suffering in recent weeks from a relentless attack of nature's worst elements.The northerly winds fanned fires, uprooted trees and overturned trucks. More than 575,000 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers lost power Wednesday night and Thursday, said utility spokeswoman Jan Stewart. By late Thursday, 22,000 remained without electricity.
In Southern California, two people died as dozens of cars crashed Thursday in 10 accidents along ice-slick Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass 55 miles east of Los Angeles, said Highway Patrol spokesman John Savage.
"One of the problems is here we don't have the snow equipment to take care of this - it doesn't happen here," said Highway Patrol Officer Frank Stricker.
Snow up to 7 inches deep closed southbound lanes of Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles, California's main north-south route, and coastal Highway 101 near San Luis Obispo, about 150 miles north of the city.
Thousands of motorists were stranded, travel elsewhere was difficult and some schools in San Luis Obispo County were closed, officials said.
The earthquake late Thursday rattled windows and knocked wall hangings askew from Los Angeles to Palm Springs 110 miles to the east. There were no immediate
reports of serious damage or injuries.
The quake registered a moderate 4.8 on the Richter scale and was centered 13 miles northwest of Palm Springs, said Hall Daly, a spokesman for California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Just a week earlier the Los Angeles Basin was swept by warm, fierce Santa Ana winds. Wind-fanned fires burned dozens of homes in two suburbs Dec. 8 and blackened 3,000 acres of brushy terrain the next day.
In northern California, power outages led to two deadly candle-sparked fires, officials said. In Berkeley, 3-year-old Oli Asghar died Thursday and his family was left homeless.
In Pittsburg, about 30 miles to the north, 6-year-old Mounkoun Lee died late Wednesday of smoke inhalation after he was trapped inside his burning home. His 5-year-old sister, Angela, died at Children's Hospital on Thursday night.
On San Francisco Bay's long waterfront, the winds sent waves up to 10 feet high slamming into seawalls and sank a 60-foot floating dock at San Francisco's Pier 43. Piles of metal and other debris were left on streets.
A tugboat sank in Richardson Bay near Sausalito, two boats sank at a China Basin dock just south of downtown San Francisco, and the Coast Guard kept busy retrieving small boats torn from their moorings, officials said. Famed attorney Melvin Belli's 110-foot yacht, Adequate Award, was damaged when another boat dragging its anchor slammed into his in Richardson Bay.
Much bigger craft had problems as well. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its 3,000-man crew, wrapping up a six-month tour, had to delay a holiday port call until Friday, said Petty Officer Roger Turner.
The wind blew out store windows in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward, and shattered glass blocked major roadways. Several trucks along a 10-mile stretch of I-580 southeast of San Francisco were toppled, the Highway Patrol said.
The winds also delayed flights and diverted air traffic to and from San Francisco International Airport and caused elevators to malfunction in the city.