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State emergency management officials tour wind-damaged areas

December 9, 2011 | 10:32 am

Photo: Altadena residents Tony Ward and Elizabeth Nelson clear away a fallen pine tree on Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times State emergency management officials on Thursday toured wind-damaged Altadena Town & Country Club, surveying downed trees and getting an earful from local politicians about Southern California Edison’s slow efforts to restore power to nearly 434,000 customers.

Edison restored power to all of its customers early Thursday, more than a week after 80-mile-per-hour winds knocked over trees and caused damage throughout the San Gabriel Valley. The California Public Utilities Commission has launched a probe of Edison’s response.

“They tried to do it solo,” Supervisor Mike Antonovich told Mike Dayton, acting director of the California Emergency Management Agency.

“Solo doesn’t work,” Dayton replied.

Dayton and a team of Emergency Management Agency officials planned to spend the day touring the San Gabriel Valley, where cities estimate that powerful wind storms the night of Nov. 30 and morning of Dec. 1 caused more than $30 million in damage. Trees crashed into homes, businesses, cars and power lines around the region.

Dayton’s first stop was the Altadena Town & Country Club, followed by planned visits to city halls in Pasadena, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, San Gabriel and Alhambra. Dayton said he would go over municipal damage estimates and discuss ongoing recovery plans with local officials.

“We’ll look at the progress and pace of recovery,” Dayton said. “We’re looking for lessons learned, though it might be premature to expect to learn all those lessons today.”

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) told Dayton that the utility’s response was inadequate.

Edison officials were not present at the meeting and did not immediately return phone calls Friday morning. But they have said that the number of downed trees and areas requiring response made progress slow going for hundreds of crews.

Antonovich said he wants the utility to show that it can respond more quickly in emergencies. Utility officials have said they had troubled getting past downed trees and limbs to reach trouble spots.

“But [residents] cannot remove trees tangled up with live wires that might electrocute them when touched,” Antonovich said.

Dayton listened to the politicians’ concerns but said the agency was not there to review Edison’s actions as much as to assess the damage estimates of local cities.

“We’ll look at this from every angle, but there is no formal process to critique their plan,” Dayton said.
Inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration are scheduled to visit the region Monday.

Pat Dennen, emergency management administrator for Southern California, said he was concerned that debris piles are picked up before rains arrive, as they could clog storm drains and cause flooding.
“Managing the crisis is part of the puzzle, but the challenge is recovery,” he said.


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-- Bill Kisliuk, Times Community News

Photo: Altadena residents Tony Ward and Elizabeth Nelson clear away a fallen pine tree on Santa Rosa Avenue in Altadena. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times