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11 buildings red-tagged after tornado rips through Montebello

11 buildings red-tagged after tornado rips through Montebello
11 buildings red-tagged after tornado rips through Montebello 02:36

A tornado tore through a portion of Montebello on Wednesday morning causing damage to a mostly industrial part of town.

Damage left behind by the tornado that hit Montebello early Wednesday.  KCAL News

Teams from the National Weather Service confirmed late Wednesday afternoon that the event was in fact a tornado after hours of speculation.

"Today, during the light morning hours, a very damaging storm affected the Montebello area, and based on what we've seen so far from the National Weather Service, we are determining that the damage is caused by a tornado around 11:20 a.m. this morning," said Dr. Ariel Cohen, with the NWS, while speaking at a press conference. "Our hearts go out to everyone who was impacted by the severe weather today. We see the damage is extensive and many people are affected by it."

After assessing the damage, NWS teams rated the twister on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is traditionally used to determine the power and impact of a tornado, as an EF-1, with some winds reaching up to 110 miles per hour during the three minute event.

EF-0 rated twisters reach gusts of winds between 65 and 85 miles per hour, with the most powerful EF-5 rating eclipsing 200 miles per hour.

"This rating rates the damage and corresponds to a wind speed that is then used in the official database of tornados," Dr. Cohen said. 

In all, 11 buildings were red-tagged due to damage suffered by the flying debris stirred up by the wind. Six other buildings also suffered damage. 

One of the buildings destroyed was Koi Koi Trading Incorporated. The president told KCAL News Thursday that for 20 years, the company has been providing primarily Asian food ingredients to area supermarkets and restaurants. 

But in a matter of minutes during the tornado, panels blew off from the building as the vortex ripped the roof. More than $5 million worth of cold merchandise is unsalvageable. 

"I cannot tell my customers we're closed for business," said Bobby Qiu, president of Koi Koi Traiding Inc. "I don't know how long they will take to reopen. Half a year? One year? Nobody knows." 

Officials say that two commercial buildings located on S. Vail Avenue got the worst of the event, with other buildings on East Washington Boulevard and Maple Ave. also sustaining damage, including The Royal Paper Box Co., which showed extensive roof damage from aerial footage via Sky-CAL.

Power has not yet been restored in the area, with Vail High School remaining without electricity throughout most of the school day. 

"We heard a big bang and thought it was a car accident," said witness Miriam Braxton. "We saw this huge cloud of debris." 

Braxton said she saw nails, dust, and pieces of building collapse onto her car and others. 

"I saw what looked like a waterspout, kinda tornado, twister that was about 30 feet wide that just came through, and was just  bouncing like a top in between picking up," said Doyle House, who witnessed the powerful wind event first hand, as he and his wife gripped an iron fence when the possible twister ripped through the area. "The whole sky looked like a dump."

Michael Chee, city of Montebello director of public affairs described the conditions as the wind event took place. 

"From our windows here at city hall, there was an extreme amount of rain, a lot of wind," he said. "it was very dark and it was a very intense cell that moved through the area. That's basically what we experienced." 

Others explained how they thought that it was actually an earthquake until they ran outside.

Cell phone video from the area showed portions of rooftops being ripped away, and other debris swirling in a circular pattern in the air. Another video showed a funnel-like cloud forming above the area as rooftops are ripped away.

"There was a big wind and everything was knocking down, it was terrible," said Ricardo Bastidas, a UPS worker who witnessed the event. 

The National Weather Service had issued a Tornado Warning for Southwestern LA County and Central Ventura County until 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.  

"It was honestly so scary to witness," said Braxton. 

It's the second tornado to have hit Southern California in the last two days, with a separate tornado confirmed to have hit farther north, with an EF-0 rated twister touching down in Carpinteria late Tuesday evening.

"At any place in California, a tornado is very highly unusual," Dr. Cohen said. "However, if we look over a broader area of Southern California, or California in general, we do tend to see a number of tornadoes occur really each year, especially in the winter or early spring time, when strong Pacific storm systems move on shore and create favorable conditions."

Dating back to when the NWS officially started tracking the events in the 1950s, there have been 45 documented tornadoes in Los Angeles County. This is the first recorded instance to actually affect a city since 2014, when a twister touched down in South L.A. 

The NWS also noted that Wednesday's tornado is the strongest to affect the L.A. Metro area since 1983.

11 buildings red-tagged after tornado hits Montebello 02:24

KCAL News Meteorologist Paul Deanno commented on some cell phone footage of the wind event. He warned people to take cover should this happen elsewhere.

"If we can go back to that cell phone video, all those little things, that look like little things are actually pieces of roof and pieces of large debris that are being thrown around, probably at a minimum of 50 to 60 mph. If any one of those things were to hit a human being, that would cause a lot of damage," said Deanno.

House surveyed the damage with KCAL News Reporter Michele Gile, noting that the industrial building was just freshly painted white last month, and now it's covered in black-looking soot from the roofing material that was blown off the roof and swirled around.

Damage left behind by the tornado that hit Montebello early Wednesday.  KCAL News

There have been three confirmed tornadoes in Los Angeles County since 2007, and today's wind in Montebello was officially declared the fourth.

So why was there no warning? 

Deanno explains how this one to two-minute weather event took everyone by surprise:

"Sometimes the pieces of the puzzle that come to a tornado, or significant weather event aren't seen in advance. In this particular instance, the general environment was conducive for it (a tornado) but this particular storm whipped it up and got rid of it in like a minute or two, which does not afford the weather service the opportunity to warn you in advance," said Deanno.

No major injuries have been reported, though one person was taken to the hospital with a non-life-threatening injury.

Damage left behind by the tornado that hit Montebello early Wednesday.  KCAL News

Around 12:25 p.m. Wednesday, the NWS said it was tracking a strong thunderstorm near West Covina, moving northeast at 15 mph. According to NWS, it is capable of producing a weak tornado or strong downburst winds.

Dr. Cohen said that as the storm continues to sweep through — heading east — drier and warmer weather should replace the constant deluge that has been sitting over the Southland in recent days.

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