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Gusting winds, rain cause havoc in Northwest

WOODINVILLE, Washington (Reuters) - Emergency crews sought to rescue people stranded by floods and mop up damage on Tuesday after hurricane-force winds and a rain storm swept through Washington and Oregon.

The states reported five storm-related deaths, while Oregon and Washington remained under a state of emergency after gusting winds and pounding rain triggered landslides and floods and toppled powerlines and trees.

Interstate 5, the main highway connecting Seattle to Portland, was completely closed by floodwaters for a 20-mile (32-km) stretch.

Road closures extended the regular 167-mile (269-km) trip between the Northwest’s two major cities to 440 miles. Officials expect the highway to be closed for another three to five days.

“I’ve never seen anything this bad here,” said John McSwain, the Woodinville, Washington, police chief, who has lived in the Seattle suburbs for 18 years.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for 12 counties in Washington state and 10 counties in Oregon.

“We are responding quickly to keep people safe,” said Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who ordered the opening of an emergency coordination center in Salem, Oregon.

A series of storms started over the weekend and soaked the Pacific Northwest. Winds reached 90 miles per hour along the coast, equal to Category 1 hurricane winds. In Seattle, where the storm was less severe, four inches of rain fell during a 24-hour period on Monday.

Vernonia, Oregon, a small city located in a valley near the Nehalem River on the western part of the state, was underwater after getting 11 inches of rain during the storm.

The Oregon Air National Guard said it evacuated up to 20 people from Vernonia and 300 residents from the city were in shelters. Coast Guard helicopters rescued at least 128 people stranded in their homes by the flood.

According to local news reports, one man died near the Washington coast when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear a downed tree and another died after losing the electricity that powered his oxygen equipment. Another person died in a mudslide, said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Oregon reported two deaths including the death of a 90-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack while being evacuated from the floods.

Pacific Power, which serves Northwest Oregon and most of the Oregon coast, said 36,000 customers were still without power even though it restored electricity to more than 4,000 homes.

“The brunt of the storm has passed. We are transitioning from the response phase into the recovery phase,” said Maj. Mike Braibish, public information officer for the Oregon National Guard.

Additional reporting by Elaine Porterfield in Seattle, Teresa Carson in Portland; Writing by Daisuke Wakabayashi; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman