Just trying to stay dry: Storms rack SLO County

Gale force winds, rain, thunder, lightning and a smattering of hail kept most Central Coast residents inside Wednesday as emergency workers dealt with the storm’s impact.

Downed trees and power lines cluttered streets and caused property damage throughout San Luis Obispo County. Several reports of trees falling into houses, especially on the North Coast, came early in the all-day storm, the third in a series that has hit the region this week.

Power outages and flooding closed popular tourist spots such as Hearst Castle, Cayucos and Avila piers and the Oceano Dunes state park.

More than two dozen car wrecks resulted when roadways were inundated with water. In one, a 21-year-old Atascadero woman suffered major injuries when she lost control of the 2008 Mercedes she was driving and slammed into an oak tree along Highway 101 north of the Highway 58 intersection. The woman, who was not identified by the CHP, was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital. The CHP said it was raining heavily when the crash occurred.

A midday lightning strike temporarily disabled the main transmitters for emergency medical responders and the Sheriff’s Department’s radio system, officials said, forcing the department to use back-up systems to provide coverage to the county. The system was operating normally by nightfall after repairs.

The week of wild weather will continue today, with more rain, wind and thunderstorms in the forecast. And the day will be cold, at least by Central Coast standards — the highs today will be near 50.

Rain will remain in the forecast through most of Friday. The weekend looks dry, but then another storm is set to arrive by Monday afternoon and bring moderate rainfall.

Has this week’s series of storms been unusual for San Luis Obispo County?

“It may seem more unusual because we have been in such a dry period for the past three years,” said local forecaster John Lindsey. “When the storm door swings open like this, you will get a series of storms coming through ... it is not unique or out of the ordinary.”

North Coast

Flashes of lightning about 5:40 a.m. Wednesday in Cambria heralded the arrival of fierce weather that slammed into the North Coast with gusts of wind and torrents of rain. By noon, firefighters had responded to more than three dozen calls to deal with trees that had toppled onto houses, power lines and roads. Firefighters said at least five homes sustained major damage.

Resident Jack Kemp was standing inside by the fireplace when a large tree came through the roof of his house on Buckley Drive, stopping just short of hitting him on the head.

The Cambria Fire Department’s automated weather station recorded a peak wind gust of 46 mph at 9:42 a.m., and 1.42 inches of rain, nearly all of it falling from 6 a.m. to noon.

County road crews handled dozens of calls for trees blocking roads, including major arteries in the Lodge Hill neighborhood west of Highway 1.

By evening, there were about 2,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers still without power; at one point, 6,000 North County residents were without electricity.

South County

Six recreational sailboats broke from their moorings in Port San Luis, and a seventh took on water.

Two of the boats, the Windemere and the Travemunde 1, were on the rocks near the Cal Poly Pier, and four were cast up on Olde Port Beach. The seventh was taking on water at its mooring, harbor manager Steve McGrath said.

The first boat went aground early in the morning near the Cal Poly Pier; by afternoon, it was breaking up on the rocks. It was unclear whether the sinking boat can be saved.

One of the boats was the No Problema, owned by Ron Pigeon of Arroyo Grande. The names and owners of the other boats had not yet been released pending notification.

McGrath described the conditions faced by the harbor patrol to be “not unprecedented but extremely severe.” High winds and waves from the south were unabated as they hit boats moored in the harbor.

North County

An estimated 25,000 gallons of sewage flowed into Atascadero Creek. At about 9:50 a.m., a blockage in a sewer siphon pipe under the Lewis Avenue Bridge caused sewage to back up into the City Hall parking lot and flow into the creek, according to public works director Geoff English.

The problem was fixed by 1 p.m., officials said, after the spill was vacuumed with a pump truck and the obstruction was cleared.

City employees also cleaned and disinfected the area and, because the creek was impacted, contacted state and county environmental agencies as well as the state Department of Fish and Game, English said.

San Luis Obispo

The city’s various creeks stayed within their banks. The Johnson Street underpass flooded for a short time when pumps could not keep up with the runoff. The water subsided without intervention, but barricades were placed as a precaution.

A portion of a large tree toppled at Broad and Higuera streets. City maintenance crews shifted traffic and cleared the area of debris.

City officials were initially concerned about Laguna Lake overflowing, but by day’s end, the water had not yet reached Madonna Road.

On Tuesday, the outlet valves at the dam at Salinas Reservoir were closed because a live stream had been created in the Salinas River from below the dam to the confluence with the Nacimiento River. As a result, no water had to be released out of the reservoir to replenish the Salinas River, and runoff was being captured completely for storage. The lake is a key drinking water supply for the city.

Tribune staff writers David Sneed, Tonya Strickland, Sally Connell, Kathe Tanner and Bert Etling contributed to this report.

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