11 Businesses Deemed Unsafe to Enter in Aftermath of Tornado in Montebello

A rare, but not unprecedented, severe weather event in Southern California scattered debris for several blocks in the San Gabriel Valley community east of Los Angeles.

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Eleven businesses in Montebello remained red-tagged Thursday in the aftermath of a rare Southern California tornado that ripped a roof off a building, shattered windows and scattered flying debris for several blocks.

One person was injured late Wednesday morning when the strongest tornado to hit the Los Angeles area in decades formed in an ominous sky over the San Gabriel Valley community east of Los Angeles. The tornado packed winds of 86 mph to 110 mph, considered an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, when it touched down at at about 11:20 a.m. in an industrial area with several warehouses.

Seventeen buildings were damaged in the San Gabriel Valley community east of Los Angeles. Eleven of those structures were red-tagged, indicating they're unsafe to occupy. Flying debris damaged several cars in a nearby parking lot.

A woman was hospitalized with what city officials described as minor injuries.

The whole factory became a big dustbowl for a minute.

Michael Turner, business owner

Michael Turner described the sound of winds gaining speed as he was in his office at the 33,000-square-foot warehouse he owns. The lights started flickering, so he went outside to find his employees gazing up, then told everyone to get inside.

"It got very loud. Things were flying all over the place," Turner told the Associated Press. "The whole factory became a big dustbowl for a minute. Then when the dust settled, the place was just a mess."

Turner said a 5,000-square-foot section of the roof is gone. A gas line was severed and strong winds shattered the factory's skylights. His polyester fiber business called Turner Fiberfill might be closed for months, Turner said.

Cellphone video captured the moment a teacher was sucked out of her classroom and knocked to the ground during a tornado in Montebello. Mekahlo Medina reports March 22, 2023.

"I've been in California since 1965. Never seen anything like this," he told the AP. "Earthquakes — we're used to that."

None of his employees were injured.

Business owners and employees who work in the area described the frightening strength of the wind.

"We started holding the door, but we couldn't," said Niky Orellana, owner of Niky's Sports Warehouse. "It blew out the door. It blew out the window."

Video from inside the warehouse showed debris scattered inside and a large hole in the roof.

Jose Hernandez's workplace is in one of the red-tagged buildings. Its roof was torn off by powerful winds that sent a co-worker scrambling under a truck for cover.

"Supervisor was supposed to be there and I don’t even think they let them go in," Hernandez said. "Because the building is so bad, you know? It could collapse. There’s no structure."

The severe weather developed during an early spring storm that arrived Tuesday and packed damaging winds, rain and more mountain snow. Another tornado touched down Tuesday night along the Santa Barbara County coast, damaging a mobile home park in Carpinteria.

The relatively weak tornado with gusts up to 75 mph left about 25 residences damaged.

A rare tornado warning was issued Tuesday night for part of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. No warning was issued ahead of Wednesday's tornado in Montebello.

"With the tornadoes that affect this area, they spin up very rapidly," said Ariel Cohen, of the National Weather Service. "Sometimes, too rapidly to detect or warn for.

"It’s a very different character for the tornadoes that are occurring over the Central and Eastern United States, where there’s a much stronger signal and a slower duration in terms of how they come about to form."

The storm was expected to taper off Thursday and move out, leaving Southern California with dry conditions and cool temperatures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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