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Second storm system leaves behind closed roads, power outages in Northwest; 4 killed

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Downed trees, mudslide-blocked roads and widespread power outages plagued the Northwest today, a day after the second of back-to-back storms moved out of region and left residents with a massive cleanup.

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The storm that hit Monday smacked the region with hurricane-force winds and several inches of rain, and was blamed for four deaths in Oregon and Washington state. It came only a day after another severe system moved through Sunday.

By Tuesday, the second system had moved on to the Upper Midwest, where it was predicted to bring a few inches of snow.

The governors of Washington and Oregon declared states of emergency, which could speed relief efforts in flood-hit areas. The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen across much of western Washington. The 24-hour rain total for Bremerton, Wash. was 10.78 inches.

More than 100 people had to be rescued from flooded areas by Coast Guard helicopters. Mudslides and floods blocked roads, and Interstate 5, the principal north-south route along the West Coast, was closed near Centralia because of about 3 feet of water over the road. Many schools and government offices were closed for a second day.

Vernonia, a town of 2,200 northwest of Portland, was virtually cut off to most vehicles because of slides and high water, and much of the town was flooded, Abby Kershaw of Oregon Emergency Management said.

The problem delayed the National Guard's effort to deliver Red Cross supplies, officials said Tuesday morning. But Department of Transportation workers with detailed knowledge of the area "remember some logging roads those military vehicles might be able to get to," spokeswoman Christine Miles said.

In Olympia, Wash., the rain turned a normally small creek into a roiling, muddy surge of water that tore through a wall at the Ranch House BBQ restaurant. Tables and booths were strewn across the street.

Christy Romo, who lives just up the hill, 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."

Mudslides blocked numerous roads and forced an undetermined number of residents to evacuate condominiums, apartments and houses in Seattle, at least nine houses in suburban Burien and several mobile homes in Shelton.

Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, for a second day Tuesday. Interstate 5 was to be closed at least through Wednesday, and "it could well be longer than that if we've had some road washout," state transportation engineer Peter H. Craig said.

Power companies said electricity may not be restored to some areas for three or four days, and some utilities planned to survey the damage by helicopter Tuesday. More stiff winds were likely, but nothing like the blasts that exceeded 120 miles mph at the height of the storm.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday that some 80,000 people had lost electric power across western Washington. Portland-based Pacific Power said about 36,000 customers were without power Tuesday morning.

Most of the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and southwest Washington were hit particularly hard. Nearly 75,000 customers lost power in the state, and more than 50,000 were still without power Tuesday morning, emergency management officials said. In Oregon, Portland-based Pacific Power said about 36,000 customers were without power Tuesday morning.

Four deaths were blamed on the storm. In Oregon, a 90-year-old woman died after suffering what Tillamook County medical examiner Dr. Paul Betlinski called "a weather-related heart attack" as she evacuated. In the same area, a truck was swept away by floodwaters, and the driver was reported dead.

In Washington, a 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.

The back-to-back storm fronts Sunday and Monday were among the Northwest's worst in recent memory. The first storm marched across the country, killing at least 15 people, mostly in traffic accidents and dumping snow from the Midwest to the Northeast.

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 Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort.

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