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UPDATE 1-Storm buffets California, millions lose power

(Adds Schwarzenegger comments, color)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif., Jan 4 (Reuters) - A fierce storm swept through central and northern California on Friday, cutting power to more than 1 million homes and businesses, closing major roads and canceling flights at several airports.

The storm may dump as much as 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.5 metres) of snow through the weekend in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada, and up to 2 feet (0.6 metre) at the popular tourist spot of Lake Tahoe, forecasters with the U.S. National Weather Service said.

Southern California braced for possible flash floods and mudslides in areas that burned in the October wildfires. Total rainfall could reach 5 inches (12.5 cm) in Los Angeles and 10 inches (25 cm) in the mountains of Southern California -- the most significant rainfall in the region since January 2005, and on the heels of the driest year on record.

“It is very important, since there is so much land that has burned, that we are prepared for mudslides,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said after being briefed by the Office of Emergency Services.

There have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries, the office said.

In San Francisco, winds blew scaffolding off buildings and temporarily shut the main thoroughfare, Market Street, while the landmark Alcatraz Island, the former prison and now national park, was closed to visitors.

Big trucks were barred from the Golden Gate Bridge, where winds reached 55 mph (90 kph). The nearby Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which connects two of the state’s major highways, was blocked most of the day by a toppled truck.

“There is a lot of rain coming down in the valleys, a lot of snow in the mountains and there is a lot of wind with speeds of 100 miles to 150 miles (160-240 kph) per hour in the Sierra Nevada,” Schwarzenegger added. “So please be very cautious.”

Near Lake Tahoe, home to the state’s most popular ski resorts, a stretch of the main road connecting northern California and Nevada was closed down.

Many of the resorts were closed on Friday due to the high winds. (Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Mary Milliken in Los Angeles and Adam Tanner in San Francisco)

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