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Sierra snow sets 90-year record

Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven't seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train, knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways across the mountains.

The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6{ feet at lower elevations in the Reno area. Meteorologists said it was the most snow the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.

"I've lived here for almost 40 years and I've never seen anything like it," Peter Walenta, 69, said Sunday from his home in Stateline, on the southern end of Lake Tahoe. "This baby just seems to be stretching on forever. Right now I'm looking out the window and it's dumping."

Storms also have caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona, deadly avalanches in Utah and ice damage and flooding in the Ohio Valley.

The weather was blamed for at least seven weekend deaths in Southern California, including a homeless man killed Sunday by a landslide. Along the storms' eastward track, avalanches killed two people Saturday in Utah, authorities said.

A lull in the storm allowed the reopening Sunday of Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways were closed off and on for more than a day. The highways connect Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.

About 25 motorists were rescued by National Guard members in Humvees after they became stranded overnight on U.S. 395 about 20 miles south of Reno, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers said. Motorists had to wait up to six hours until rescuers could reach them after daylight Sunday.

More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento on Sunday after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening. No one was hurt. Amtrak officials moved the passengers to other cars and the train reversed course and returned to Sacramento about 6 a.m.

Because of the derailment, a westbound Zephyr had to stop in Reno and its roughly 140 passengers completed their trip to California by bus.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years, because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall, spokeswoman Trish Tucker said.

Elsewhere, flooding along the Ohio River had chased hundreds of Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky residents from their homes. Meteorologists predicted the river would reach its highest level in eight years at Louisville, Ky., this week at about 5 feet above flood stage. Cincinnati was already more than 2 feet above its 52-foot flood stage Sunday, with forecasters expecting a crest at 57.5 feet.

Indiana officials said some of the worst flooding since 1937 had isolated pockets across the southern part of the state, forcing hundreds of people from their homes.

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