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CA Suffers $600 Mil In Crop Damage

Three straight nights of below-freezing temperatures have ruined most of California's navel oranges and lemons just as the harvest was beginning. Prices could triple in supermarkets nationwide, wholesalers say.

Industry losses are estimated at $591 million and growing, and layoffs have begun on Christmas Eve in the Central Valley, where it took years for the economy to recover from a similar freeze in 1990.

Farmers and regional officials are inspecting fruits and vegetables in California counties where a prolonged freeze has inflicted widespread damage. They're building their cases for probable disaster relief requests to Gov. Pete Wilson and the federal government.

Early morning lows fell to the teens and 20s in the San Joaquin Valley, where citrus has been devastated this week. By midmorning, the National Weather Service said central and southern areas had "warmed to around freezing," and it let warnings expire.

Moderating conditions are forecast for tonight and Christmas morning, although some areas are expected to still have lows to 22 or 23 for a couple of hours.

The arctic air that descended on the state just as the citrus harvest was beginning has forced growers to work through the night, using wind machines, water sprinklers and heaters.