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Winds knock out power to thousands on US

Wild winds with gusts topping 65 mph (105 kph) blew from the Great Lakes to the East Coast , knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, disrupting travel and killing at least five people.

world Updated: Feb 13, 2009 08:55 IST

Wild winds with gusts topping 65 mph (105 kph) blew from the Great Lakes to the East Coast on Thursday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, disrupting travel and killing at least five people.

The high winds, attributed to a strong low pressure system, started Wednesday night and moved east overnight, kicking up gravel and sand from construction sites and hurling garbage cans onto busy New York City streets on Thursday.

"I got more sand in my eyes than a beach, and I almost got blown over backwards," said electrician Michael Lazzaro, who ducked into a bar on his way home from work in New York.

Utilities such as Jersey Central Power & Light in New Jersey reported downed power lines from wind-snapped trees. About 250,000 customers remained without power Thursday in Pennsylvania, and 140,000 more in Ohio. There were also about 109,000 outages in West Virginia, nearly 31,000 in New Jersey and 14,900 in Michigan. "This is one of the largest power outages we've seen in many years," said Jimmy Gianato, West Virginia's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. At one point, 220,000 customers were without power. At least six state parks also had no electricity.

Utilities in Ohio and West Virginia said electricity wouldn't be restored to some residents until the weekend or later. In New Jersey, a 61-year-old motorist was killed early Thursday in Union County when a tree snapped, crashing through her car's windshield and impaling the woman. A woman in Newark died of massive head injuries after a tree branch fell and struck her Thursday afternoon.

Wind also was believed to be a factor in the Thursday death of a 59-year-old New York City construction worker who was killed when a wall collapsed, officials said.

A woman in West Virginia and a truck driver in Ohio also were killed in weather-related deaths Wednesday night, when gusts topping 70 mph (112 kph) in Indiana and Ohio were reported as the system moved through.

Gusts disrupted the morning rail commute in the New York City area. Four people were hurt, apparently by flying glass, when the wind blew a crossing gate into a Long Island Rail Road train. Average flight delays topped 3 hours Thursday at LaGuardia Airport and nearly four hours at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

In Philadelphia, winds ripped off part of a portable classroom's roof on Thursday, forcing 40 kindergarten students inside to evacuate, said James Cantwell, Smedley Elementary School's principal. No injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service confirmed Thursday that a small tornado had touched down in Indiana, damaging the roofs of a barn and a home near the town of Medford. No injuries were reported. In Kentucky, devastated by a crippling ice storm two week ago, utilities worked Thursday to restore power to about 55,000 customers, down from at least 150,000 outages a day earlier. A 35-year-old utility worker from Minnesota fell 30 feet (9 meters) to his death Thursday while helping repair crews restore power in Kentucky.

Kentucky National Guard members were assigned to help clean up debris, a Guard spokesman said. Most of the new outages were in the southeastern part of the state, while the ice storm mostly affected western Kentucky.

Power outages were also reported in Tennessee, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

Schools were closed Thursday in some areas, including Buffalo, New York, and at least two dozen counties in West Virginia, where Gov Joe Manchin authorized National Guard troops to help clean up after severe thunderstorms struck the state.