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Powerful Snow and Ice Storm Rakes Pacific Northwest

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A powerful storm that dumped snow and freezing rain across the Northwest left more than 300,000 homes and businesses without power in Washington and Oregon on Friday, stymied buses and planes and closed highway passes through the Cascade Range.

Downtown Seattle was a virtual ghost town, with almost no traffic and few people. The coffeehouses managed to stay open, though.

“We are like the mailmen--we have to be,” said Kirsta Catlin, manager trainee at a Starbucks coffee shop near downtown. “In fact, I think we have mailmen in here right now.”

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The storm sent ice-laden trees crashing down on homes, streets and power lines in Washington and Oregon, and more rain and snow were expected this weekend.

“It looks like the same thing all over again,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Robinson. His forecast: “The same amount of precipitation--or higher.”

Meanwhile, in California, heavy rain and dense fog caused a series of accidents that injured several people and left the Grapevine strewn with dozens of cars, shutting down one of the state’s main north-south routes.

“There are approximately 30 to 40 vehicles involved and there are accidents in four to five different areas” along a four-mile stretch from Fort Tejon to Gorman, said Capt. Kevin Scott of the Kern County Fire Department.

The California Highway Patrol closed all lanes in both directions and began reopening them at 5 p.m.

Dave Danielson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Oxnard, said the region was feeling the tail-end of a large Pacific storm.

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Rain pelted Southern California throughout Friday. About a quarter-inch was reported in downtown Los Angeles, and about 2 inches fell at Bell Canyon in eastern Ventura County, near the Los Angeles County line.

In the Pacific Northwest, at least three deaths were blamed on the storm. A Portland, Ore., man died of a heart attack while trimming broken tree limbs in his yard; a 62-year-old Washington state woman was killed in a collision Thursday with another car on a road covered with snow and ice; and a Washington state man was asphyxiated by fumes from a generator being operated in a closed area at his home.

Snowfall amounts in western Washington ranged from about half a foot in downtown Seattle to 13 1/2 inches in suburban Mountlake Terrace. In Oregon, more than 2 inches of freezing rain fell on the Columbia River Gorge, which had 8 inches of snow on the ground.

In Washington’s Thurston County, at the southern end of Puget Sound, only 4 inches of snow fell, but freezing rain created a mess by felling trees and power lines.

“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Pat Bernard, among the shoppers who lined up under emergency lights at a grocery store in Tumwater, near Olympia, to buy batteries, firewood and other supplies for their powerless homes.

Scores of holiday travelers and skiers were stranded when at least 2 feet of snow closed the two major routes across the Cascade Range in Washington--Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass and U.S. 2 over Stevens Pass. Stevens Pass reopened Friday afternoon to vehicles with chains, while a third mountain route--White Pass near Mount Rainier--was intermittently opened. Interstate 90 was expected to be closed until sometime this weekend.

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The suspension-style Narrows Bridge, which crosses Puget Sound at Tacoma, was closed briefly Friday afternoon because of falling icicles. And Olympia police responded to so many accidents they ran out of road flares and had to borrow some from the state.

In Port Orchard, across Puget Sound west of Seattle, snow caused a marina roof to collapse, sinking eight boats. Ten otherwere in danger of sinking, and the Coast Guard said up to 60 vessels could be lost.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, hundreds of people spent Thursday night in the terminal after dozens of flights were canceled.

“People were on the floor, trying to get comfortable on the chairs,” airport spokesman Mike Merritt said. “Your heart sort of went out to them, knowing how tired they must be.”

The terminal even lost power--and heat--for more than three hours overnight, although emergency generators kept ground control and essential services running, Merritt said.

On Friday, an estimated 400 arrivals and departures had been canceled by midday, and only “a handful” of flights were being made, Merritt said.

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The problem wasn’t the ability to keep runways clear, but ice on the aircraft--up to 1 1/2 inches thick, Merritt said.

“It’s just so much ice that they’re just wasting [de-icing] fluid if they keep spraying,” he said. “They are just frozen solid.”

Among the air-travel casualties was the University of Washington marching band. Its chartered plane couldn’t be de-iced to fly the musicians to San Diego, where the football team plays Monday in the Holiday Bowl against Colorado.

Flooding and mudslides also caused Amtrak to cancel passenger trains between Seattle and Eugene, Ore. The railroad said delays were likely on other Northwest routes.

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