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Storm system that pummeled Northwest takes aim at Midwest

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JOSEPH B. FRAZIER
December 4, 2007
— A storm that brought hurricane force winds and heavy rain to the Northwest, killing at least four, was en route to the Upper Midwest, which has already been hit with heavy snow and rain.

Many roads remained closed by downed trees and landslides in Oregon and Washington, communications were spotty at best and power remained out for thousands of residents after back-to-back storm fronts Sunday and Monday that were among the region’s worst in recent memory.


The governors of Washington and Oregon declared states of emergency, which can speed relief efforts. Many schools and some government offices planned to close or stay closed Tuesday because of high water or power outages.


The storm should blanket the Midwest on Tuesday, with Ohio predicted to get several inches of snow, said Mike Dutter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland.


The weather service said 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen across much of western Washington. The 24-hour rain total for Bremerton was 10.78 inches, meteorologist Chris Burke said Monday evening.


Rescue boats were used throughout the day, with GPS-equipped helicopters taking on a bigger role after dark – in some cases plucking people from the roof of a house, sheriff’s Detective Matt Wallace said.


“We’re still plugging away. We’ll be going all night,” Wallace said. “As long as people need help, we’re going to get them out.”


By 10 p.m., six Coast Guard helicopters had hoisted 66 people from areas surrounded by water in Washington – in some cases from rooftops, said Petty Officer Kelly Parker in Seattle. Two helicopters were continuing operations late into the night, he said.


More stiff winds were likely Tuesday in the Northwest, but nothing like the blasts that exceeded 120 miles mph at times Sunday and Monday.


At least two Oregon deaths were reported, including that of a 90-year-old woman who suffered what Tillamook County medical examiner Dr. Paul Betlinski called “a weather-related heart attack” as she evacuated. The driver of a truck swept away by floodwaters in the same area also was reported dead.


In Washington, one man in Aberdeen died when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear another downed tree. Another person died from an undetermined medical problem after power was lost, said Grays Harbor County sheriff’s Detective Ed McGowan.


Most of the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and southwest Washington were hit particularly hard by the storm. Gov. Chris Gregoire said some 80,000 people had lost electric power across western Washington.


Power companies said electricity may not be restored to some areas for three or four days. Portland-based Pacific Power said about 23,000 customers still were without power Monday night.


Crews sent to restore service Sunday night were recalled by managers because of the danger of working with the downed lines in the dark. Pacific Power planned to launch a helicopter Tuesday morning to survey the damage.


Water from the rising Wilson River ran down the streets of Tillamook on Monday and closed U.S. 101, Oregon’s main coastal highway. Interstate-5 between Portland and Seattle was closed in the Chehalis area.


Other rivers were headed for flood stage, including Mary’s River in the Willamette Valley and the south fork of the Coquille River in southwest Oregon.


In Olympia, the rain turned a normally small creek into a roiling, muddy surge of water that tore through a wall at the Ranch House BBQ. Tables and booths were strewn across the street, and a storage shed was pushed about 300 feet away.


Christy Romo, who lives just up the hill from the restaurant, said she could hear the floodwaters coming and started packing before the first floor of her cabin was inundated.


“I knew I wouldn’t have much time,” Romo said. “I heard a bang, and then saw the water rising quickly.”


People in the Midwest began bracing for the Northwest system 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, and many areas were under ice or winter storm warnings.


Still, the winter weather spelled success for ski areas in New England that suffered through an abysmal winter last year. In Vermont, 7 inches of snow welcomed skiers and snowboarders Monday.


“It’s not snow. It’s white gold,” said Christopher Francis, innkeeper at Ye Olde England Inne, a 30-room establishment in the shadow of Stowe Mountain Resort.


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Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.



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