Montebello business owners facing extensive repairs from destructive tornado

Tony Cabrera Image
Friday, March 24, 2023
Montebello businesses working to recover after tornado
The day after a tornado ripped through an area of Montebello, business owners surveyed the heavy damage as cleanup operations continued.

MONTEBELLO, Calif. (KABC) -- The day after a tornado ripped through an area of Montebello, business owners on Thursday surveyed the heavy damage as cleanup operations continued.

Bobby Qiu showed the inside of his now-inoperable seafood distribution business to ABC7. The tornado left him with a gash on his neck and cuts on his body.

"I just heard a big ring and then tried to close my gate, and then it hit," he said. "It was too strong."

Qiu has had the Koi Koi Trading business for 20 years, 10 of them in Montebello.

Now, he's facing between $3 million and $4 million in damage with up to 20% of the roof gone, plenty of water damage, and lost product.

Video from AIR7 HD showed the extent of the damage wrought by a rare tornado that ripped through an industrial area of Montebello.

"I just want to get it back to normal, open business," he said, adding that he couldn't wait 7-8 months. "Customers can't wait for you."

The tornado tore rooftops from several industrial buildings and left 17 structures damaged, 11 of which were red-tagged.

Video from AIR7 HD showed the extensive scope of the destruction, including catastrophic damage to one building's rooftop ventilation system.

National Weather Service officials said the tornado was rated as EF1, with winds of 110 mph. That made it the strongest tornado recorded in the area since an F2 twister in March 1983. The last time an EF1 tornado occurred in the area was in January 1998 in Long Beach.

Across the street from Koi Koi Trading, at Niki's Sports, the owner is also facing millions in loss and damage.

Nicolas Orellana has had his soccer equipment distribution business for 37 years. On Wednesday night when he went to bed, the tornado experience kept playing over and over in his head.

"I couldn't sleep," he said. "I closed my eyes and I started hearing the same noise. That thing blew up my mind."

Orellana is from El Salvador and has survived violent attacks on his home. The traumatic experience of the tornado has now overshadowed his past, he said.

The city of Montebello is working to get help for local business owners.

"We've established a task force. We're working collaboratively with our county EMS partners and other agencies so we can expedite this process of finding funding for these businesses that were affected, so we can help get their repairs going, help them get back on their feet," said Alex Gillman with the city of Montebello.

Tornadoes are more common in California than people may realize, but most of them are weaker and less destructive than the one that hit Montebello.

From 1951 to 2022, California saw 469 tornadoes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. LA County saw 45 of those.

The last major tornado in the Los Angeles area, rated EF0, was in December 2014, hitting the Inglewood and South Los Angeles area, according to the National Weather Service.

2014: Tornado hits South Los Angeles, Inglewood area

Home video captures a tornado as it tears through a South Los Angeles neighborhood on Friday.

A weaker landspout tornado knocked down some trees in La Mirada a month ago.

F0 is the weakest level on the tornado rating scale. EF1 is the second- weakest rating, although with winds of 110 mph, the Montebello twister nearly reached the EF2, or "strong," level. An EF2 tornado has winds between 111 and 136 mph.

Forecasters said Wednesday's twister was 0.42 miles long and was 50 yards wide.

One of the 17 structures that were damaged sustained a nearly total roof collapse. Multiple cars were also damaged by blowing debris and at least one power pole was snapped.

According to the National Weather Service, California sees an average of seven tornadoes per year.

City News Service contributed to this report.