Claremont recovers from massive windstorm

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David Hastings

Tremendous fallen tree on Claremont Boulevard.

Communities around the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains were ravaged by a severe windstorm on the night of January 21st bringing unprecedented damage to the surrounding infrastructure. The city underwent cleanup efforts in the following weeks, and the Claremont community came together to rebuild the “city of trees.” 

“We were expecting gusty winds from the weather report, so we did close our Wilderness Park thinking it’s just for fire risk,” said Bevin Handel, public information officer for Claremont. “We definitely did not expect winds in the excess of 70 to 80 miles an hour, and the amount of trees [fallen] we were not expecting.” 

The severity of the winds increased and sustained for hours, unlike anything Claremont had seen in years. The first calls of downed trees and power shortages came in around 9 pm that evening. 

The extent of the damage was surveyed in the morning after winds had calmed down. Fallen trees crushed cars, fell on buildings, and blocked off roads. The Claremont Village was practically shut down, as businesses kept their doors closed due to loss of power or the risk of commuting to work that morning. Historic eucalyptuses obstructed Claremont Blvd and other trees on Foothill Blvd and Briarcroft Rd. 

“I would say there are more than 300 trees that are going to need to be removed and 91 of those are just in parks alone,” Bevin said. “Unfortunately, some of those park trees and even some of the street trees are heritage trees that are over 100 years old. These are massive mature trees that have 10 feet diameters. They’re beautiful old trees, but we lost them.” 

The Claremont Colleges were also impacted as well. Similarly, they dealt with damage from trees and power outages. Another large eucalyptus that helped shade Marston Quad at Pomona College fell across the intersection of College Avenue and 4th street.  

Even with all of this the damage, it did not seem to affect Claremont community’s morale, as people were seen chatting and smiling as they took photos in front of the uprooted trees. Citizens also came together to help out with the cleanup however they could. 

On campus, Webb suffered damage as well, though not as significant due to a tree trimming project that was underdone in fall. Even still, there were multiple fallen trees on the premise, debris of leaves and branches littered across crossroads, and the dining hall and centennial tents crumbled into a wrangled mess of metal. 

“We lost a big tree branch right in front of the driveway,” said Dr. Brendan Beikmann, who lives on campus with his family. “It blew some other stuff around. But in general, we were unscathed. I mean, one tree that went down was also blocking the driveway.” 

Dr. Beikmann also has a unique volunteer role in Claremont that gave him some insight into the severity of the winds that night. 

“The damage in Claremont was bad enough that they deployed the Claremont Community Emergency Response Team, the CERT team,” Dr. Beikmann said. “We got a call about nine in the morning about people responding for it. I didn’t deploy this time just because of the stuff on campus.” 

“I’m assuming based off my knowledge of what they do is they were probably supplementing the police department and helping out with either traffic direction or blocking trees off that are down around the city,” Dr. Beikmann said.“They’re the force that goes in when the emergency forces need additional help with things that maybe aren’t at the level they can handle.  That’s first time that we’ve had a call out since I’ve started over which was four or five years ago.” 

Besides the trees, Webb didn’t suffer from too many major power outages, though many people in Claremont lost power through the night. 

“There were streetlights out and then power outages,” Ms. Handel said. “The first night there were 4000 people without power and slowly we put everybody back online”. 

Other surrounding communities also dealt with similar issues. Even still, the effect the winds had on Claremont seemed most notable because of the town of trees and PhDs. As a result, almost all the main southern California new stations came to Claremont to report. 

Day-students were affected by the power outages at their homes. The wind struck on Friday and didn’t really have an impact on their ability to complete their schoolwork on time. 

“I couldn’t play Fortnite because there was no electricity,” Leo Levitin-Shilman (‘23) said. “Power was out for four days, and I had to charge my phone in my dad’s car.” 

What is really most important in the aftermath is that no one was injured, and that we should not take for granted the great resources Webb used to bring us back to normal so quickly. 

“The big success story here is that there were no injuries and no fatalities, which is unbelievable,” Ms. Handel said.