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STORM'S RUINOUS RESULTS; THOUSAND OAKS BOULEVARD HIT HARD BY LIGHTNING, WINDS.

Byline: Michael Coit Daily News Staff Writer

The sounds of saws cutting and cranes lifting power poles along a mile-long stretch of Thousand Oaks Boulevard on Thursday sounded the cleanup of one of the areas hardest hit by brief but powerful thunderstorms Wednesday.

Dozens of Southern California Edison Co. workers, flanked by cleaning contractors and other utility crews, were working to restore power to nearly 250 customers in shopping centers on both sides of the boulevard and the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall.

There were more than 2,500 customers still without power Thursday in the area. Edison's regional manager said power might be restored by tonight, or at least by Saturday.

``There's so many small pockets of problems as a result of lightning strikes on power poles and transformers . . . that hit just randomly all over the area,'' said Mike Montoya, who manages Edison's Ventura County region. ``That's a mess out there to clean up.''

Lightning strikes and power lines knocked down by falling trees and limbs knocked out electricity to more than 11,000 people during the height of the thunderstorms.

Some of the greatest damage was along Thousand Oaks Boulevard between Duesenberg Drive and Westlake Boulevard.

Winds gusted near or above 60 mph. A dozen power poles were toppled, taking down 60,000 watt transmission lines and 16,000 watt distribution lines, as well as cable television lines.

Poles and large tree limbs crunched six cars, trapping motorists inside, though no major injuries were reported. A large limb also shattered an auto dealership display window.

``I've been out here 30 years, and I've never seen it like this,'' said county sheriff's Deputy Paul Ferruzza, posted at one of two detours to keep cars and pedestrians off the normally busy boulevard. ``This is just incredible.''

Several blocks of the auto mall were still without power Thursday. The outage left dealership owners and sales managers scrambling to pay top dollar for scarce generators to power show floors once people are allowed back in the area.

``It's not a good situation. And, of course, it's happening on our second biggest weekend of the year,'' said Lee Froehlich, general sales manager for Kemp Ford, who noted car sales on the Labor Day weekend are second to the Memorial Day weekend.

Signs in show-floor windows apologized to customers and stated the closures were temporary and dealerships could open today. But owners and managers said they did not expect the power to return until Saturday.

Power also remained out at both the Northgate Center and the Country Oaks Plaza to the east of the auto mall. Pockets of power were restored at the North Ranch and Evergreen shopping centers across the boulevard, sheriff's officials said.

``We've turned away tons, all day long,'' said Susan Allen, manager of the Starbucks Coffee store in the Northgate Center.

Allen came to work to clear out perishables and take deliveries. She remained philosophical about the forced closure.

``They'll be back. It's just a lost day,'' she explained. ``There's nothing you can do about it.''

The damage and threat to public safety was enough for the sheriff's department to post its Mobile Resource Center near the boulevard. Traffic detours presented the greatest challenge, said Senior Deputy Harold Hanley, a spokesman.

Most traffic was diverted onto Hillcrest Drive, so there were long delays Thursday. Westbound motorists attempting to avoid Hillcrest created a notable snarl in the North Ranch and Evergreen center parking lots as they were turned back on the west end near the Thousand Oaks Post Office, Hanley said.

``Everybody came in here thinking they could get through and around and found they couldn't,'' said Kevin Ford, a delivery driver who was among those stuck in the lot for some 20 minutes.

Postal Service deliveries were impacted somewhat by the boulevard closure and traffic delays. Carriers were about 90 minutes late in returning Wednesday and deliveries were 15 to 20 minutes behind Thursday, said Pete Boughan, customer service manager.

About 100 of the city's 51,800 deliveries couldn't be made as a result of the boulevard closure, he said.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color) Ramiro Aguilar, a subcontractor worker, ducks under fallen wires Thursday as he carries debris from Thousand Oaks Boulevard left by the violent storms that hit the area Wednesday.

(2--Color) Edison workers place new insulators on a pole going up on Thousand Oaks Boulevard during Thursday's cleanup of the damage from Wednesday's destructive thunderstorms.

(3--Color) A 75-foot power pole is raised in Edison's efforts to restore power.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 4, 1998
Words:758
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