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Tornado rips up rooftop

‘All of a sudden it sounded like there was a herd of elephants stampeding on the roof,’ says witness at business complex.

January 19, 2010|By Joseph Serna

If Monday was all about the rain, Tuesday was all about the wind.

For the second day in a row, a series of extreme weather systems battered Southern California, prompting a rare tornado warning from the National Weather Service. On Monday, a rainstorm flooded streets, a school and a church. Tuesday brought with it a tornado touching down in Costa Mesa.

Newport Beach Fire Department officials Tuesday reported measuring a wind gust of up to 93 mph at lifeguard headquarters at the Newport Pier. Sustained winds were measured at more than 50 mph there, officials said.

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In Costa Mesa, business owners reported experiencing the force of at least one twister in the afternoon.

“All of a sudden it sounded like there was a herd of elephants stampeding on the roof,” said Xavier Kohan, a financial consultant with a second-story office in Ocean View Industrial Park, 1001 W. 17th St. “And then just like that, I looked out the window and just saw huge pieces of the roof flying away.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it. The pieces were just hanging in the air, swirling,” he said. “By the time you realized what was happening, it was over.”

Witnesses described seeing a “curved wind,” where nothing flew straight but everything was tossed hundreds of feet in circular directions.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning from about 1 to 2 p.m., noting that the weather pattern showed an alarming rotation.

In that hour, the industrial park was hit with a tornado that ripped off two-thirds of the top layer of its roof, causing between $100,000 and $200,000 in damage, said Costa Mesa fire Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw.

Witnesses said the twister lasted about 30 seconds and headed northeast, deeper into the city. Newport-Mesa school district officials said it damaged a sign at a nearby adult education center.

“The awning was just ripping off right in front of my eyes. Giant shards of wood and plywood flew,” said Clifford Chapman, who lives in the Orange Coast Mobile Home Park across the street from the industrial park.

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