Montebello transformer explosion shook homes 'like an earthquake' residents say

Tuesday, December 3, 2019
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Montebello residents blame Southern California Edison for a blown transformer that damaged their homes and set a car on fire.

MONTEBELLO, Calif. (KABC) -- Montebello residents are blaming Southern California Edison for a blown transformer that shook their homes like an earthquake and sent a power surge through electrical lines - damaging their homes, destroying a car and putting lives at risk.

"Wires just jumping all over," says Rebecca Santillan.

Families in eight households say they remain without power and don't know how much damage has been done to wiring behind their walls.

"All the fuses to my oven, my washer, my microwave, my cable box. They all burned up," says Elvia Vasquez.

Edison told residents that the Thanksgiving Day outage on Ferguson Drive was caused by lightning. However, after Eyewitness News raised further questions about weather conditions a spokesman says that an investigation is ongoing.

Residents say that there had been a prior transformer blown eight days earlier that plunged them into darkness. They also report utility crews were working on the same line the day before the Thanksgiving explosion.

Maria Perez describes seeing her new BMW on fire outside her window. Her attention was diverted by the smell of gas. With active power lines strewn near their front door and the house filling with smoke her family looked for a way to escape.

"My husband opened this window. He jumped. Then my son jumped. Then he helped us jumping out of the window," says Perez.

It was later that Perez saw the peril that surrounded them. Metal gates, fencing and a steel support in the house had been electrified as evidenced by soot and melting.

"Edison, they bear a big responsibility because a lot of this damage they say was caused by a lightning bolt hitting the tower - which is not the case," says homeowner Duane Bertiz.

Security footage shows that it was raining when the transformer blew. A check with the National Weather Service showed nothing more than rain showers.

"No evidence of lightning in the Montebello area that morning," reports the NWS after searching data.

An Edison spokesperson says the incident put 2,450 customers in the dark on Thanksgiving.

About the damaged homes, Edison says that replacing panels and wiring is the customer's responsibility.

"Just recently I buried my dad. I had to use all my savings to bury my dad last month. Now I got to do all this," says Elvia Vasquez.

The Montebello Fire Department reports that hours later on the same day there was an underground vault explosion nearby at Montebello Boulevard and Los Angeles Avenue.

Neighbors say they are worried about a repeat. In homes where there is partial power they report flickering lights. Streetlights in front of their homes are still out.