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Storms bring chaos to California

A dangerous storm system blamed for two deaths and thousands of power outages in the US Pacific Northwest has pushed down through California, causing mudslides and evacuations.

A powerful squall line led the storm's pre-dawn charge, lashing the region with rain falling at a rate of up to 2in an hour, triggering flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.

Avalanches of mud and debris blocked part of the Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County, southern California. Street and freeway flooding snarled morning rush-hour traffic and triggered numerous accidents.

Mudslides in two areas previously stripped bare by summer wildfires forced people from their homes.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for 124 homes north-west of Los Angeles, Ventura County sheriff's department said. Some people needed help leaving because of property damage, but no injuries were reported in the area.

The storm carried warm air and vast amounts of water in a powerful current stretching from Hawaii to the West Coast and up into the mountains, where gusts up to 140mph blew through passes.

The storm's powerful winds caused power cuts around Santa Barbara and other parts of the coast, and forecasters predicted the winds would pick up speed.

Yesterday, the centre of the storm and its torrential rains hit the San Francisco Bay Area and the surrounding region, pushing waterways towards flood stage, toppling trees and cutting power to thousands.

In Oregon, the winds had already proved deadly. A falling tree killed a homeless man who was sleeping on a trail, and a teenage boy died after a large tree fell on the vehicle in which he was riding, causing it to swerve and hit another tree.

Falling trees also injured a man in south-west Washington state and a pupil at a primary school in Santa Cruz, California.

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