- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wild winds with gusts topping 60 mph blew from the Great Lakes to the East Coast Thursday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers, disrupting travel and killing at least two people.

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

Nearly 250,000 customers lost power in Ohio alone late Wednesday and early Thursday, and another 250,000 in Pennsylvania. There were also more than 50,000 outages in Michigan, more than 30,000 around Buffalo, N.Y., and 73,000 in West Virginia.

In New Jersey, a 61-year-old motorist was killed early Thursday in Union County when the wind blew the top of a tree through her windshield. Wind was also believed to be a factor in the death of a 59-year-old New York City construction worker, killed when a wall collapsed, officials said.

A downed power line forced the closure of Interstate 90 west of Erie, Pa., for three hours on Thursday morning. The wind also disrupted the morning rail commute in the New York City area, and four people were hurt, apparently by flying glass, when the wind blew a crossing gate into a Long Island Rail Road train.

The weather service reported a wind gust of 92 mph in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, but said most gusts in the region were no greater than 60 mph.

In Kentucky, devastated by a crippling ice storm two week ago, Public Service Commission spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said the wind caused at least 120,000 new outages.

Some 25 to 30 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 Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

About 200 people in Allegheny County, Pa., were evacuated from homes and an assisted living center late Wednesday because of a storm-related gas leak. They were allowed to return early Thursday.

The strong wind blew a roof off a building in West York, Pa., and several roads had to be shut down while the debris was cleaned up.

Schools were closed outright in some areas, including Buffalo, N.Y., and at least two dozen counties in West Virginia. Other schools opened late.

Earlier, gusts topping 65 mph were reported Wednesday night in Indiana and Ohio as the system moved through. Gusts as high as 45 mph were still being reported by Thursday morning.

To the east, wind gusts of 48 mph were reported in New York City, and average flight delays topped 3 hours Thursday morning at LaGuardia Airport.

A warm spell that preceded the cold front led to flooding in some areas as snow melted and ice jams formed on creeks.

Some streets were underwater in a flood-prone area of Findlay, Ohio. Police ordered bystanders off a bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., and closed the span Wednesday after a huge ice jam built up on a creek. It eventually broke up. An ice jam also backed up the Grand River at Grand Rapids, Mich.

A river flood advisory for Pittsburgh was posted through Saturday.

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