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Falling tree damages crucifix at Mission San Gabriel

December 1, 2011 |  3:08 pm

The Rev. Tony Diaz, right, and mission employee Chuck Lyons survey the damage to a wooden crucifix that was knocked down by a wind-toppled, 70-foot eucalyptus tree at the historic San Gabriel Mission early Thursday morning, Dec. 1, 2011. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Howling Santa Ana winds and a falling tree flung a statue of Jesus off his cross at the historic San Gabriel Mission, snapping off his arms and flinging him upside-down.

The dramatic winds also threw a statue of John the Apostle off his pedestal, hurling him head-first into the ground. There were major cracks in his neck, "and we don't know if it's repairable or not," said Father Tony Diaz.

In a park just west of the mission, a giant Christmas tree decorated by the city of San Gabriel blew down to the street at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday. The tree, on Mission Road and Mission Drive, had had its decorations and lights completed  two days ago, Diaz said.

PHOTOS: Santa Ana windstorm | Submit your photos

The damage to the statues occurred in the mission's old cemetery, where most of an 80-foot eucalyptus tree broke off its trunk and crashed into a scene from the Gospel of John constructed 50 to 60 years ago, Diaz said.

"When the tree fell, it hit the cross, destroying the horizontal beam," Diaz said. When it did that, the only thing connecting Jesus to the crucifix was the cross' attachment to Jesus' feet, leaving the statue to swing upside-down, with Jesus' feet facing skyward.

"That statue is basically ruined," Diaz said. "But miraculously, the statue of Mary is still standing. It seemed like the cross protected Mary."

FULL COVERAGE: Santa Ana winds

The memorial of the three figures was created to honor the native Tonga Indians of the San Gabriel Valley.

The winds also blew off some tiles on the roof of the rectory, Diaz said. Some were still hanging on by wires.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Father Tony Diaz, right, and mission employee Chuck Lyons survey the damage to a wooden crucifix that was knocked down by a wind-toppled, 80-foot eucalyptus tree at the historic San Gabriel Mission early Thursday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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