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High winds rake Northeast

Wind gusting to 60 mph in the Northeast knocked out power to thousands, damaged buildings and felled trees on Wednesday, killing at least one person.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Wind gusting to 60 mph knocked out power to thousands, damaged buildings and felled trees across the Northeast on Wednesday, killing at least one person.

Meanwhile, California’s lengthening cold snap broke records, damaged more of the state’s strawberry crop and raised concerns about the safety of homeless people.

The blustery winds, which accompanied a strong cold front moving through the Northeast, killed a 50-year-old farm worker in suburban Philadelphia when he was struck by a falling tree, police said. His name was not immediately released.

Authorities said the winds also may have caused a small aircraft in northern New Jersey to slide off the runway after landing and to hit several trees. No one was injured.

Thousands of people were without power across the Northeast as the wind snapped utility poles and knocked down electrical lines.

Wind also tore off part of a gymnasium roof at an elementary school in Edison, N.J., and loosened a plastic cover on the state Capitol dome in Charleston, W.Va.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said Hernshaw, W.Va., resident Jay Kirk, whose yard was strewn with Christmas decorations knocked loose by the wind. “It just sounded like a tornado, just an unbelievable sound. I never heard anything like it before.”

The fierce gusts ripped down a 25-foot tall cowboy statue that stood for nearly 40 years at the Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, N.J. Owner Grant Harris said just the legs were left standing.

In Philadelphia, construction materials blew off the top of a high-rise building, damaging a car. Downed trees also blocked roads, including part of the Schuylkill Expressway in the city, and caused scattered power outages that forced two schools to close.

In western Pennsylvania, a hunter pinned beneath a tree that blew over used a cell phone to guide rescuers to him by describing the surrounding terrain. He was being treated at a Pittsburgh hospital.

On the opposite coast, temperatures plunged to 32 degrees in Sacramento, Calif., shortly before dawn, tying a record set in 1929, the National Weather Service said.

In the high desert of north Los Angeles County, Lancaster was at 15 degrees, two under the 1989 mark. Los Angeles International Airport recorded a temperature of 41, eclipsing the 1948 record.

The four-day-old cold snap damaged about 50 percent of some growers’ strawberries in Ventura County, where about 4 million pounds of strawberries were harvested last week, said Abby Taylor, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.

Other produce farmers have used giant fans and irrigation the last couple of nights to keep their crops from freezing. Authorities said there was no damage to orange, lemon, grapefruit and avocado crops.

Social workers were concerned about a shortage of shelter beds for the homeless.

In Los Angeles County, about a dozen shelters Wednesday provided an additional 2,000 beds for the homeless, but relief organizations feared thousands will be left out in the cold.