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Rare Snowstorm Hammers Western Oregon

Forecasters said several inches of snow could fall in Oregon's Willamette Valley
Updated Thursday, Jan. 6, 2014, at 7:34 p.m. ET
Traffic is backed up on Interstate 5 South after a multiple-vehicle crash near Albany, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Oregon's dry winter was interrupted Thursday by a storm that was expected to drop snow throughout the state, with as many as nine inches accumulating in the central Willamette Valley. Stormy conditions early in the day snarled traffic on Interstate 5 around Salem and Albany. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Danielle Peterson)
Traffic is backed up on Interstate 5 South after a multiple-vehicle crash near Albany, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Danielle Peterson)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A rare snowstorm hammered parts of the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, leaving one person dead in a massive traffic pileup on Interstate 5, causing multiple other wrecks, and closing schools and offices.

Forecasters said several inches of snow could fall in Oregon's Willamette Valley before the storm is over. The central part of the valley - near Corvallis and Albany - could see up to a foot of snow.

The big pileup on I-5 that killed one person and injured others occurred across the Columbia River in Washington state's Clark County.

At least half a dozen tractor-trailers were involved in the collision on the snow-covered freeway. The massive pileup happened around 10 a.m. near milepost 13, the Columbian reported.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Steve Schatzel said several people were trapped in the wreckage. One suffered injuries described as critical and two others suffered serious injuries. The exact number of people injured was not available Thursday afternoon.

The snowstorm also caused a 25-vehicle pileup on I-5 near Albany.

"It's pure chaos," Oregon State Police Lt. Steve Mitchell said as troopers struggled to reach trucks and cars that crashed along the freeway. "For all intents and purposes, it's shut down between Albany and Salem."

Traffic backed up for miles. A detour was set up, and a wreck blocked that route for a time, as well.

By mid-afternoon, crews had opened one lane of traffic, but the state Department of Transportation said traffic was still slow.

Only minor injuries were reported.

Oregon's largest city, Portland, was getting hit hard in snow Thursday afternoon. Cars were slipping and sliding as commuters left work early.

A blizzard warning was posted for the Columbia Gorge, an hour east of Portland.

The storm struck quickly Thursday morning, dumping an estimated 3 to 5 inches in the Albany region and then spreading north.

Transportation officials urged motorists to stay off highways if possible to avoid the kind of traffic nightmare that occurred in Atlanta last week, when thousands of motorists were stranded.

National Weather Service forecasters said the storm will be the most widespread snow event in the northern and central Willamette Valley since December 2009.

The storm is developing, as moisture from the coast collides with an arctic air mass over the state. The cold is expected to last through the weekend, and a mix of snow and freezing rain could accompany moderating temperatures.

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