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Pacific Northwest storm causes flooding and outages

Several vehicles ignore a road closure on a hill in Kirkland, Washington
Several vehicles ignore a road closure on a hill in Kirkland, Washington

By Laura L. Myers and Teresa Carson

SEATTLE/PORTLAND (Reuters) - A deadly ice storm and heavy rains swept across the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, leading to flooding and evacuations in Oregon and heightening the misery of residents in Washington state struggling with power outages and treacherous roads since an earlier record snowfall.

The governors of Washington and Oregon declared emergencies in their states, and the storm was blamed for at least three deaths, including those of a 20-month-old boy and his mother in Oregon who police said were sitting in a car that was surrounded with flood waters and swept into a rain-swollen creek.

In Seattle, which normally sees mild temperatures and wet weather but not heavy snow, the storm has resulted in airport and school closures, car crashes, downed trees and lost power. Overall, some 275,000 customers across the state were without power, officials said.

Nicknamed "Snowmageddon," the storm walloped Seattle and other parts of Washington with snow on Tuesday night and later developed into icy rains that downed power lines and made driving treacherous. To the south in Oregon, residents were dealing with heavy downpours and flooding.

On an icy stretch of Interstate 90 in Washington near the town of Cle Elum, about 80 miles inland from Seattle, six semi-trailer trucks were involved in a chain-reaction collision that snarled traffic on the state's major thoroughfare through the Cascade Range of mountains, said Washington State Patrol spokesman Kandi Patrick.

Amtrak said in a statement on Thursday that it had suspended its Cascades train service because of downed trees and debris scattered on tracks.

The emergency proclamation by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire allows for the activation of the Washington National Guard if needed, but the governor has not asked for the guard to assist, said her spokeswoman Karina Shagren.

Record-setting daily snowfall of 6.8 inches was measured early Thursday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, shattering the previous record of 2.9 inches in 1954, said meteorologist Dan DePodwin of AccuWeather.com.

The airport had to conduct de-icing operations, and at one point all runways were shut, Sea-Tac spokeswoman Charla Skaggs.

Seattle officials in the afternoon urged area residents to get home before dark because of icy road conditions.

SEATTLE SCHOOLS CLOSED

The roughly 100 public schools in Seattle were all closed on Thursday for the second day in a row, and they would be closed on Friday as well, said Lesley Rogers, a spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools.

"It's the ice, we have really steep hills in Seattle, and all our buses are equipped with chains on their tires but if we can't get the buses safely up and down the hills that's a problem," Rogers said.

Schools in other parts of the state were also closed, according to statements on a number of school district websites.

The largest share of the 275,000 customers without power are in King County, which includes Seattle, said Rob Harper, spokesman for the state Emergency Operations Center. Pierce and Thurston counties in southwest Washington state was also hard hit with a combined 75,000 customers without power, he said.

Near Issaquah, a suburb of Seattle, a 60-year-old man was killed on Thursday when a snow-laden tree fell on him as he drove an all-terrain vehicle, said King County sheriff's spokeswoman Sergeant Cindi West.

Sixty miles south of Portland in Albany, Oregon, rescuers on Thursday recovered the body of Aiden McLaughlin, the toddler who was killed the night before when the car he was in was swept from a grocery store parking lot into a creek, the city's police department said in a statement.

Family members of Catherine McLaughlin, 18, who was in the car with her son, found her body in the creek on Thursday and it was recovered by authorities, police said. Two other occupants in the car both survived and were taken to hospitals.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service at Mount Rainier called an elite team of 10 searchers to find two separate overdue parties, with a total of four people missing since earlier this week, the Park Service said in a statement.

The storm and related worries about avalanches heightened the urgency to find the four missing hikers and campers, but freezing rain made it difficult to deploy a search helicopter, the Park Service said.

In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber's declaration of emergency mentioned hard-hit Marion, Coos, Benton and Lincoln counties, but not the more heavily populated Portland area.

In Portland, 3.4 inches of rain and snow has fallen since the storm began on Tuesday, said Andy Mussoline, meteorologist with AccuWeather.com.

Other areas received higher amounts of precipitation, with Silverton, 35 miles south of Portland, receiving 8.8 inches, Mussoline said.

Marion County emergency officials asked residents in the town of Turner, with a population of about 1,900, to evacuate to higher ground, the local sheriff's office said in a statement. About 50 families were evacuated earlier in the day.

About 20 people were evacuated overnight and Thursday in the tiny town of Scio, about 75 miles south of Portland, said City Manager Ginger Griffith. Scio, with a population of 840, had waist deep water in some neighborhoods, she said.

(Additional reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland: Writing By Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Paul Thomasch and Dan Burns)

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