- Associated Press - Thursday, December 1, 2011

LOS ANGELES Some of the worst winds in years blasted the West overnight, knocking down trees and power lines in California and toppling trucks and forcing some schools to close as gusts reached 102 mph in Utah.

The winds left hundreds of thousands of people without power, mainly in California, darkening streets and traffic lights as commuters made their way into work.

“It was a terrifying ride for me, coming here in pitch dark … and watching motorists take no notice of lights being out,” said Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

“What the weather experts are telling us are that these probably are the worst windstorms to hit [the area] in more than a decade,” Mr. Spencer said, adding that preliminary reports suggest “extensive damage.”

The windstorms come as a large, low-pressure system moved into California. The system promises to bring similar, but less-ferocious conditions as far away as Wyoming and New Mexico, meteorologists said.

“What’s driving this is a large, cold low-pressure system that’s currently centered over Needles, Calif. The strong winds are wrapping around it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Rorke said.

The Weather Service issued high-wind warnings and advisories for parts of California, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico.

The front would bring blustery weather to Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana, Mr. Rorke said.

In Southern California, high winds blew over at least six semitrailers before dawn on highways below the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mario Lopez.

Northeast of Los Angeles, foothill communities were hard hit as the winds swept down the San Gabriel Mountains. A 97-mph gust was recorded Wednesday night at Whitaker Peak in Los Angeles County.

Gusts Thursday morning topped 60 mph.

Pasadena closed schools and libraries and declared a local emergency, the first one since 2004. Fire officials said 40 people were evacuated from an apartment building after a tree collapsed, smashing part of the roof.

Two house fires, possibly caused by downed power lines, critically burned one person, seriously injured three others and forced seven others to flee, fire spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said.

Along Huntington Drive, a major, six-lane thoroughfare that carries traffic into downtown Los Angeles, nearly every traffic light was dark across a distance of more than 10 miles, snarling commuter traffic.

Overnight, a falling tree collapsed the canopy of a gas station, but an employee shut off the pumps and no fuel spilled. Another tree fell on a car, trapping the driver, who was taken to a hospital.

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