Update, Thursday, March 23, 2:30 p.m. About 2,900 PG&E customers, mostly in the Berkeley Hills and the Elmwood, were without power in the city as of 3 p.m. Thursday, according to the utility, with that number dropping to 1,500 by 5 p.m.
“Storms are fluid and in some cases, even though the weather has passed, saturated soil can still lead to trees falling into our equipment,” PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian wrote in an email.
She said there were two new outages in Berkeley that began Thursday.
About 14,000 were still without power across the Bay Area as of 5 p.m., including more than 6,000 in the East Bay.
Most areas still without power were expected to regain electricity this evening, though one small neighborhood near Codornices Park where an outage started Thursday morning had no estimated time for restoration as of 5 p.m. and did not yet have crews on site working to repair the lines, according to PG&E’s outage map.
Berkeley Unified was “deploying portable battery-operated lights” at Thousand Oaks Elementary Thursday morning, a district spokesperson said in a statement. All BUSD transportation was operating normally.
Original story, Wednesday, March 22 Tuesday’s storm brought down trees and power lines all over Berkeley, cutting power to tens of thousands in the East Bay and blocking roads for hours.
Firefighters rushed from call to call Tuesday evening and on Wednesday city workers had spread around the city to chop and remove trees and clear storm drains. Shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, the city firefighters’ union tweeted that they were “currently working several utility related rescue calls around the city.”
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, there had been “no storm-related injuries or deaths reported citywide,” Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani tweeted Wednesday morning.
After a chaotic evening of wind and rain, there were still 10,150 PG&E customers in Berkeley without power as of shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to the utility. That number had dropped to around 9,000 by 2 p.m. and down to about 6,400 by 5:30 p.m.
Most of the outages around the city had an estimated time of restoration around midnight. PG&E did predict one large outage, affecting 2,574 customers in and around southwest Berkeley, should be dealt with by 8 p.m.
Around Alameda County, 52,541 customers lost power during the storm, according to PG&E. The utility had restored power to 20,357 customers by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Weather stations in Berkeley recorded 2.66 inches of rain in the hills to the east and 2.41 inches closer to the San Francisco Bay between when the rain began Tuesday morning and ended Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Winds had gusted as high as 61 mph at higher elevations in the city.
Miles Bliss, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Monterey office, said the Tuesday storm “trended away from what was expected.” Forecasts had predicted that the Bay Area would be spared the brunt of the storm, and would see just a portion of the atmospheric river.
Instead, he said, the Bay Area was hit by the “core of the low”: the centralmost area of a storm system spinning in a counter-clockwise motion. The path of the storm resulted in strong winds gusts topping 45 mph in Berkeley, according to a NWS station near Longfellow Middle School, and 74 mph at the Oakland Airport.
At least one Berkeley Unified School District school, Ruth Acty Elementary, had no power Wednesday morning, nor did a Parker Street facilities office for the district, but “the district is currently deploying portable battery-operated lights at Ruth Acty and is prepared to do so at other schools if needed,” according to a letter from the district. All district schools were open and transportation running, according to the letter.
Power was also out at Berkeley Police Department headquarters, which was running on a generator Wednesday morning, police said. In a Nixle alert, police advised residents that their lobby would be closed all day Wednesday, and asked them to call 911 for emergencies and 510-981-5900 for everything else.
Senior residents at the Harriet Tubman Terrace apartments on 2780 Adeline St. said power and heating cut off during the storm around 5 p.m. Tuesday. Power wasn’t restored until around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
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The American Red Cross brought blankets and sandwiches at 11:30 a.m., according to Darinxoso Oyamasela, president of the tenant’s council. He added that one resident slept in his vehicle in the garage Tuesday night because his apartment was too cold.
A resident was displaced from her third-floor apartment at the Redwood Gardens senior apartments when a redwood tree toppled into the building Tuesday afternoon, residents at the complex said.
The elderly woman was in her bedroom when branches from the tree landed on her tile roof in the living room, but she was able to escape safely without any injuries. She was relocated to another apartment in the same complex, but residents said her apartment hasn’t yet been cleared for return.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mike Kossa-Rienzi was at home when he heard a huge crack and suddenly the power went out in his house. As he went outside to investigate, he saw the second of two 50-foot-plus redwood trees crash into his rental home on the corner of Berkeley Way and Grant Street.
“Inside is bad,” said Kossa-Rienzi, who lives next door. “It went through the dining room and pretty much cut the house in half.”
Part of the tree punched a hole in the kitchen ceiling where one of his tenants was at the time. No one else was in the house, and the tenant was not injured. However, the trees also crushed his SUV.
The trees took out several power lines and left many drooping. At 11 a.m. Wednesday, neither PG&E nor anyone from the city had come to inspect the downed trees that had left residents without power since Tuesday.
Kossa-Rienzi said he called the city and was told they couldn’t do anything until PG&E inspected the power lines. Someone from the utility arrived around 11:30 a.m.
Last year, city workers came out and repaired the buckled sidewalk where the redwoods stood and cut some of the tree roots, Kossa-Rienzi said.
His tenants, who are close friends, stayed in a hotel Tuesday night and planned to move into another friend’s empty apartment.
Kossa-Rienzi said he’d have to wait until a contractor could come out and inspect his property before deciding what to do next. Besides the roof, the whole side of the wall was crushed and pushed out.
“I feel really bad for our friends who were living there. I’m thankful that nobody got injured. So all things considered, everybody’s pretty lucky,” he said. “In the big scheme of things, it’s a huge pain in the a–. But it could have been a lot worse.”
A couple of blocks away, the administrative director at the Berkeley Therapy Institute on Martin Luther King Way off Grant Street was backing out of the driveway in her car around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when a 40- to 50-foot tree fell and crushed the back seat and trunk.
“No one was injured, fortunately,” said Daniel Goldstine, chief psychologist at the institute.
A tree-trimming crew was busy cutting the tree, which had broken off from the root right in the front yard of the institute.
Around the corner on Grant, a redwood had fallen and crashed through a chain link fence of an abandoned building. The tree had taken down power lines, leaving wires exposed.
At Tamalpais Road and Rose Street near the base of the Berkeley Hills, a redwood, torn up by the storm, fell across a home and a pickup truck with two people inside, said Councilmember Susan Wengraf, whose district includes that area. Two power poles also fell, surrounding the truck with wires.
It took roughly two hours for utility workers and rescuers to cut the power and extricate the truck’s occupants, Wengraf said.
“The hills get stronger winds than the lower elevations, and it’s very heavily forested, and we have redwoods which are shallow-rooted, so I think we’re vulnerable in the hills to this kind of damage,” Wengraf said. “We’ve had a lot of outages — unplanned outages — this year because of weather,” she said, adding that PG&E ought to invest in undergrounding their power lines.
City workers and rescuers “responded to over 125 storm-related calls on Tuesday alone,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “Crews worked nonstop to deal with these extraordinary call volumes. Forestry staff stayed on since they started their shifts at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and continued well into the evening.”
By the city’s count, the storm brought down at least 55 trees in town, as well another 12 along the waterfront and dozens of tree limbs, Chakko said. That number did not include many trees that toppled on private property, and there may yet be some downed trees not reported to the city’s Urban Forest Unit.
“Of those incidents, 19 involved wires of some sort. There were nine reports of cars being struck,” Chakko said. “It may take a few weeks to get everything picked up.”
Police advise people to assume that any downed power lines are dangerous, and to report them immediately. They reminded motorists that, if a traffic light loses power, they should treat it as a four-way stop.
Another storm is forecast for Berkeley early next week, according to NWS. The “relatively normal” storm can be attributed to a cold front coming from the bay of Alaska, and is expected to deliver another inch of rain to Berkeley between Monday evening and Wednesday.
Video sent to us by a reader shows fallen tree branches blocking a walkway on UC Berkeley’s campus and Strawberry Creek rushing with water this morning. pic.twitter.com/yD2BbUIZLm— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) March 22, 2023
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Nico Savidge and Pamela Turntine contributed to this report.