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Tropical Storm Gaston batters South Carolina

Thousands lose power; governor declares a state of emergency

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. -- Tropical Storm Gaston sloshed ashore in South Carolina yesterday with near hurricane-force winds, spinning sheets of rain that flooded roads as the storm knocked out power to thousands of people.

Gaston made landfall near McClellanville, a small fishing village that was brushed by Hurricane Charley earlier this month when it came ashore for a second time after devastating southwestern Florida.

Governor Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency yesterday and encouraged "folks to stay in their homes for the time being so damage-assessment crews, utility crews, and debris-removal crews can do their jobs."

As much as 10 inches of rain had fallen along parts of the coast by midday, and a flash flood watch was in effect. Hundreds of residents were urged to evacuate ahead of the storm.

Hours after the eye of Gaston came ashore, steady sheets of rain pelted Mount Pleasant. Tree limbs littered flooded roadways, some of which were impassable. Palmettos were pushed to the pavement and road signs twisted in the wind.

Across the harbor in Charleston, Gaston flooded streets and pushed over power poles. At least 125,000 people were without power at the height of the storm.

The rain tapered off along the coast by midday, but blustery winds raked the coastline near Charleston, and intersections throughout the area had no operable traffic lights.

"The important thing is that we don't have any false sense of safety that it's all over," said Charleston's mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr. "We have downed trees, and oftentimes there are power lines under those downed trees."

By midday, Gaston was moving north at about 8 miles per hour toward inland South Carolina, weakening along the way yet prompting flood watches and warnings of wind gusts as high as 60 miles per hour.

Residents in low-lying areas in Charleston and Georgetown counties were urged to move to higher ground before the storm hit. Authorities also asked people living in mobile homes to evacuate.

In the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Frances had sustained winds of 135 miles per hour about 550 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the southeast Caribbean.

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