CITYWIDE — Some of the worst winds in years blasted the region overnight, toppling trees and trucks, knocking out electricity to hundreds of thousands of people and bringing hurricane-force gusts of more than 100 mph to the mountains.

The winds downed power lines, darkening streets in parts of Santa Monica and the Westside as commuters made their way into work Thursday.

Santa Monica, which experienced winds as high as 35 mph, fared pretty well overall, with just two trees that toppled over. Another two had to be removed due to damage on Thursday, city officials said.

Officials advise residents to call the Santa Monica Police Department if they discover fallen trees or power lines.

“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,” Spencer said, adding that preliminary reports suggest “extensive damage.”

The windstorms were the result of an dramatic difference in pressure between a strong, high-pressure system and a cold, low-pressure system, meteorologists said. This funnels strong winds down mountain canyons and slopes.

The system was expected to bring similar, but less ferocious conditions as far away as Wyoming and New Mexico. The front will bring blustery weather to Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana, meteorologists 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.

Pasadena closed schools and libraries and declared a local emergency, the first 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 toppled onto a car, trapping the driver, who was taken to a hospital.

In northwestern Los Angeles County, sheriff’s deputies rescued two men whose boat capsized in 5-foot swells and gusting winds. They clung to the boat as high winds pushed them to a dam with a 200-foot drop.

They were treated for mild hypothermia, and one man, a former opera singer, was so appreciative that he serenaded the rescuers with “God Bless America.”

More than 200,000 customers in Southern California were without electricity Thursday. About 26,000 customers were without power in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California.

On Wednesday, 23 flights were diverted and several delayed at Los Angeles International Airport because of severe crosswinds and debris on runways, officials said. Power was out for an hour at passenger terminals.

The winds had died down by Thursday morning but some delays were reported. Departures to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport were averaging an hour’s delay because of bad weather there.

The winds were colder but fiercer than the Santa Ana winds that often hit California in late fall, but they carried the same ability to dry out brush and push fires into conflagrations.

Daily Press staff contributed to this report

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