50 years ago — A 20-minute power blackout and some king-sized puddles were the aftermath of a speeding desert thunderstorm that swept the Southern Imperial Valley shortly after noon yesterday.

Other than the power failure, virtually no other damage from the storm had been reported in the Valley.

According to Fred Hesse manager of the power department of the Imperial Irrigation District, the outage had apparently been caused by lighting striking a 33,000-volt sub-transmission line, which is responsible for carrying power to most of the Imperial Valley.

The lightning caused a power surge on the line, which in turn tripped out circuit breakers throughout the power system.

Hesse explained that the delays in restoring power, from a few minutes in Brawley to 20 minutes in El Centro and Calexico, resulted from the necessity of restoring the system part by part.

James R. Cooper, administrator of El Centro Community Hospital, reported that emergency generators at the hospital were in full operation within 40 seconds of the power failure. In Imperial, the power failure apparently tripped fire alarms at Imperial High School, sending fire trucks to the scene, but no fire was found.


40 years ago — At least 15 people were killed and as many as 60 injured when a southbound Mexican passenger train hit a railroad maintenance vehicle noon Tuesday south of here.

Carlos Zamora, commander of the rescue force, provided the estimate. Meanwhile, six Americans were reportedly among the injured.

A head nurse at Mexicali General Hospital identified three of the injured as Donald Rose, Susan Sandow and Mike Hall. It was not known how old they are or what cities they are from.

Also, three Americans were unconscious – a girl and two men, all in their 20s.

Mexican officials said the train, known as the Bajon State Train, was carrying about 450 passengers. Apparently all but two bodies had been extricated from the immense wreckage by this morning – one of them was a boy, 7, whose family was still undecided whether to allow workers at the scene to amputate the leg of the body to permit easier removal.

Workers were hampered Tuesday night by fear the train’s twisted hulk might tumble into an adjacent canal. There were conflicting reports as to the precise cause of the crash.

Earlier, officials said a maintenance vehicle was on the main track and its operator in vain tried to push it into a siding.

A later report was that the vehicle itself was on the siding and a switch was inadvertently left open, so the train, diverted to the siding smashed into it.

The train wreck was termed by Mexican officials the worst in Mexicali’s history.


30 years ago —  A month-old girl was in good condition in a San Diego hospital today after suffering a head injury Saturday when her mother, who was holding her, fell after apparently being struck by a man in an El Centro apartment, police said.

A man arrested in connection with incident was being held in the county jail today, said El Centro Assistant Police Chief Harold Carter. The infant was taken to El Centro Regional Medical Center, but because of the seriousness of her injury was transported to Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

“She is in good condition. She did have some swelling from head trauma, but the nurse said she is doing real well, said Children’s spokesman Mark Morelli.

While the investigation into the girl’s injury is continuing, Carter said officers who responded to a domestic dispute were told the girl was hurt when a man knocked over her mother.


20 years ago — A county Sheriff’s Office deputy and an off-duty San Diego-area firefighter helped save five people whose pickups were washed away during monsoon-like storms here Thursday night.

County sheriff’s Deputy Cheryl Fowler was at home Thursday evening when a clerk from Willie’s Market called her to help a motorist who’d run out of gas.

Fowler got in her patrol car and brought fuel to Erich Schenk, a San Miguel Fire District firefighter planning to camp in Riverside County with his wife and two young children, Fowler said.

“The storm was coming in and we were coming back when I saw the wash was already running,” Fowler said.

It was about 9 p.m. when Fowler came upon the wash. Fowler saw a tractor-trailer rig pulled over to the side of Highway 78, where a wash was filled with fast-moving water. Rainwater from the Chocolate Mountains flooded the wash. The wash, about 700 to 800 feet wide, is larger than Milpitas Wash and about 3 to 4 miles south of Milpitas Wash and 10 to 12 miles north of a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, Fowler said.

Fowler got out of her car and so did Schenk, who had followed closely behind in his car. They saw two pickups getting washed off the highway by the fast-moving waters. As they watched the trucks moving off the road, two men who had been driving the pickups ran to Fowler to say their families were inside the pickups, including two girls, age 2 and 4, The families had been traveling together and were from Bullhead City, Ariz., Fowler said.

“The first vehicle was already in the wash and there were three adults in it. The second vehicle had gone into the wash. We were hoping it wouldn’t overturn, and it didn’t,” Fowler said.

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