From: Reuters
Published January 6, 2008 10:18 AM

Winter storms batter western states

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Storms battered the western United States on Saturday with strong winds, heavy rains and a blanket of snow that caused widespread power outages, a levee break in Nevada and two deaths in California.

In the Los Angeles-area city of Chino, a woman was swept away in floodwaters when she tried to abandon her stalled car, and in Yuba City, north of Sacramento, a worker was killed when a falling tree struck him, according to a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

A canal levee broke near Reno, Nevada, flooding an estimated 800 homes and causing some 3,500 residents to evacuate by helicopter and boat, a Nevada Department of Public Safety spokesman said.

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Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency in Umatilla County in the northeastern corner of that state due to high winds that ravaged the area.

The first of three storms swept through Northern California on Friday, blowing scaffolding off buildings and shutting down streets in San Francisco. Big trucks were barred from the Golden Gate Bridge, where winds reached 55 mph.

Mountains in the eastern part of the state were hit by major snowfall and wind gusts as high as 100 to 150 mph.

Snow accumulations of 8 to 10 feet were expected in the Sierra Nevada range over the weekend as another storm moves through the region.

"(The bad weather) will continue through at least tomorrow, and then there's another round on Monday," said Jane Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Weather Service.

The weather pummeled Los Angeles and communities to the south in Orange County, where roughly 3,000 people had been asked to leave their homes in hillside areas hit by wildfires and prone to mudslides.

But no major slides occurred and no significant damage was reported to homes or buildings, according to Michael Miller of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

There were relatively few power outages in Southern California, and by Saturday most electricity had been restored to customers, according to several utility companies.

The story was different in Northern and Central California where some 1.8 million customers of PG&E Corp lost power. By late afternoon on Saturday, roughly 400,000 homes remained without power, according to PG&E.

Near Fernley, Nevada, an agricultural and suburban town 32 miles east of Reno, a 30-foot-wide breach erupted in a canal levee. Some homes in the lower-lying section of town stood in 3 feet of water and people were evacuated to a school.

(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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