OAKLAND -- At least two people were killed as high winds pounded the East Bay on Thursday night, uprooting trees and overturning power lines, leaving thousands without power and some without a way to get home.
In Oakland, a man standing outside in the 2700 block of Austin Street was killed about 8:10 p.m. when a power line fell to the ground, electrocuting him, Oakland police said. The man's identity has not yet been released. Less than an hour later, another man died trying to avoid debris in a roadway.
The National Weather Service said the strong gusts were set to hold steady heading into Friday morning, and the winds that blew through the Bay Area on Thursday night seemed much more powerful than anyone was prepared for.
PG&E reported nearly 39,000 customers were without power in the East Bay as of 11 p.m., many of them in Oakland. San Leandro saw 4,758 customers in the dark. And nearly 1,440 customers in Berkeley were also without power, as were hundreds more in Hayward, Albany and Castro Valley.
In Contra Costa County, outages ranging from tens to hundreds of customers were reported in Orinda and Concord, with the largest outage affecting 874 customers in Danville.
The South Bay seemed to fare better from the hazardous wind conditions. Only San Jose and Millbrae reported outages -- just under 100 customers without power in San Jose and 1,400 others without power in Millbrae.
There was no estimate of when power would be fully restored to the affected areas. Representatives for PG&E were not immediately available for comment.
According to the National Weather Service, the highest winds were being reported in the East Bay and North Bay, with Sonoma County and Petaluma reporting gusts up to 55 mph. Hayward was an East Bay hotspot with gusts of 44 mph at the airport.
"I'm in Adams Point in Oakland and my windows are rattling and the electricity keeps going out," said Sheila Addison. "It's incredibly creepy and I'm a little concerned about whether I should be worried about safety."
It was also a problem spot for trees and traffic, according to the California Highway Patrol.
"We had one (tree) go down at 8:55 p. m. on eastbound (Highway) 92 at the Hesperian offramp," said Officer Ralph Caggiano, adding that an earlier sigalert was just canceled minutes before after trees fell on northbound Highway 238 just south of Hesperian around 6:30 p.m.
A more severe incident happened in Marin County, where a tree fell on Highway 101 and struck a car, Caggiano said. The driver reported minor back pain but was not severely injured, he said.
In Oakland, the winds proved deadly for one driver who attempted to swerve and avoid wind-swept debris along the 13000 block of Skyline Boulevard. The driver's Volkswagen jumped the center divide and crashed into a tree at Skyline Boulevard and Colbourn Place, killing the man.
While Oakland police investigated the scene, a 30 foot pine tree across the road was uprooted by the forceful gusts and plummeted onto the road, blocking both lanes of traffic.
Bob Benjamin of the weather service said the winds are caused by a high-pressure system coming in on the heels of the low-pressure system that brought Wednesday's storms.
"It's causing strong northerly winds," he said. "As the low pressure system continues to move on out, the winds will gradually diminish through (Friday) afternoon."
He said they will be "quite strong overnight" but didn't expect to see gusts much stronger than what were felt Thursday evening, although they may spread farther south -- the South Bay was not experiencing the same kinds of gusts as its northerly neighbors.
"They won't be nearly as strong for most of the South Bay, but there will be higher winds at higher altitudes such as on Mt. Hamilton," Benjamin said.
Around 9 p.m., gusts were 20 to 30 mph in Hayward, 15 to 30 mph in Oakland and 20 to 30 mph in Livermore.
The high winds were also making it difficult for BART trains in the East Bay as well as for fire crews that reported to blazes in both Martinez and Oakland late Thursday.
A two-alarm fire in Oakland, at 54th Avenue and International Boulevard, was proving difficult to control due to the windy conditions, Oakland Fire officials tweeted.
A vegetation fire in Martinez was also possibly fueled by high winds.
Check back for updates.
Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Follow Katie Nelson at Twitter.com/katienelson210.