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Stormy winds rage in US Northwest; two people killed

Hurricane-force winds and heavy rains killed at least two people, blocked roads with trees, high water and mud and damaged power lines in the U.S. Northwest.

Oregon transportation officials warned drivers not to attempt passage through the Coast Range as the second of two storms blew through.

"This storm is hitting the coast so hard, it's not leaving any road open," Transportation Department spokeswoman Christine Miles said Monday.

The first wave of severe weather in the Northwest, which hit Sunday, was expected to reach the Upper Midwest with snow Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. That region had already been battered over the weekend by ice and snow before the storm blew into the Northeast on Monday.

About 150 people were stranded at some point Monday across western Washington , said Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Rescue boats during the daytime yielded to helicopters equipped with global-positioning systems after dark, in some cases plucking people from roofs, Lewis County sheriff's Detective Matt Wallace said.

An estimated 30 to 40 people evacuated a flooded mobile home park near Astoria in northwestern Oregon , said Red Cross volunteer Peter Williamson. Fire officials in Tualatin said 23 people and a dog had to flee as rising water threatened 16 homes.

Bremerton , Wash. , reported 10.78 inches (27.38 centimeters) of rain in 24 hours, said Weather Service meteorologist Chris Burke. High water closed some streets in Portland .

Wind gusts of more than 100 mph (160 kph) were reported along the Oregon coast, with the highest reading at 129 mph (208 kph) at Bay City , the Weather Service said. Gusts hit 81 mph (130 kph) at Hoquiam, Washington , it said.

Mudslides halted north-south Amtrak passenger train service between Eugene , Oregon , and Vancouver , British Columbia , and flooding forced the indefinite closure of Interstate 5, the main route between Seattle and Portland . To the east, snowslides temporarily closed major Cascade Mountain passes carrying traffic on Interstate 90 and U.S. 2.

Roads leading into the population centers of Washington's Grays Harbor County were cut off for most of the day, but one patched-together route from Olympia to Ocean Shores was finally punched through by Monday evening.

Telephone and other communications were so were so tenuous that it was impossible to determine how many people were forced out of their homes, said Abby Kershaw of Oregon Emergency Management.

Amateur radio operators said they were trying to help with communications as Oregon's Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties experienced spotty or absent telephone service.

Mudslides halted north-south Amtrak passenger train service between Eugene , Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Washington officials warned of possible mudslides after the heavy rains and urged residents to avoid steep landscapes, road cuts and stream channels.

Pacific Power reported 40,000 homes without power in Oregon , and it could be days before electricity is fully restored, the utility said. Transmission poles 100 feet (30 meters) tall were toppled, and large sections of lines lay on the ground.

The Grays Harbor County Public Utility District in Washington reported 33,000 customers without electricity. Two of the utility's workers were injured, one seriously, when a windblown tree hit their lift truck bucket, sheriff's deputy David A. Pimentel said.

The Weather Service issued flood warnings in Oregon for seven coastal rivers and two inland. The storms curtailed state government functions, as driver's license and employment offices in Columbia County filled with flood waters.

In southwestern Washington, one man died when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear one that had been toppled, said Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Detective Ed McGowan. Another died of a medical problem after the power went out, he said.

In Oregon , the twin systems fell most heavily on the northern part of the coast, where crabbers hoping to get the first of the season's Dungeness crabs stayed in port.

The high winds snapped a 206-foot (63-meter) Sitka spruce that had shared honors with one in Washington for America 's largest. It had attracted 100,000 visitors a year.

"The tree will now die," state forester Paul Ries said. "It's a sad event, but not unexpected. It's part of the natural cycle of the tree."

People in the Midwest began bracing for the Northwest systems to move their way even as they dug out from a storm that hampered travel over the weekend. That system moved into the Northeast on Monday and has been blamed for more than 15 deaths, mostly in traffic accidents.

School was canceled or classes delayed from New York to Maine as highways turned slippery and wind gusted to 40 mph (64 kph). Ice storm warnings were issued for Massachusetts and Connecticut , and winter storm warnings were in effect in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and northern and western New York .

A weather-related pileup in New Jersey killed two people, including Jennifer Alexander, a dancer for the American Ballet Theater, officials said.

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