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Power outages rise as Irene approaches Mass.

SHARE Power outages rise as Irene approaches Mass.

BOSTON — Tropical Storm Irene's gusty winds and rain caused thousands of power outages and flooding Sunday as Massachusetts emergency officials warned that the downgraded storm still posed a significant threat.

State emergency management officials were keeping an eye on the potential for a storm surge during evening high tide on the south coast and flooding in western Massachusetts from heavy rains. State police said people were being evacuated Sunday morning near the rising Westfield River in Chester, which was flooding Route 20.

More power outages were expected from steady winds downing trees and power lines. Utilities reported that about 100,000 customers had lost power by 10:30 a.m.

Kurt Schwartz, the state's emergency management director, said Irene, no longer a hurricane, was still a storm to be taken seriously.

"We think there will still be hurricane-force gusts as well as sustained winds of 60 mph," he said. "It doesn't mean we can relax or we're out of the woods."

The National Hurricane Center said at midmorning that Irene's winds had fallen to 65 mph, below the 74 mph dividing line between a hurricane and tropical storm. The system was still massive and powerful, forming a six-shaped figure that covered the Northeast. It made landfall at Coney Island and was moving at 25 mph, twice as fast as the day before.

Wind gusts up to 58 mph were reported at New Bedford and Taunton in southeastern Massachusetts at midmorning, the National Weather Service reported.

Heavy rain bands were spreading over the state, with 4-inch totals reported in some areas. Widespread rainfall of 3 to 6 inches was forecast, with up to 10 inches in the eastern slope of the Berkshires.

Besides the Chester evacuations in western Massachusetts, state police said the Farmington River in Otis was also flooded.

Schwartz said a "relatively minor" mudslide in North Adams has compromised a natural gas line in the western Massachusetts city Sunday morning. He said utility officials had the situation under control. No injuries were reported and Schwartz was not aware of any evacuations.

In Gloucester in the northeastern part of the state, winds were picking up and rain was falling Sunday morning. Still, people were out walking, getting some shopping done and taking pictures of the growing waves. Some small branches had started to fall.

In Boston, the MBTA suspended service on Sunday morning to avoid the storm and prepare to resume commuter service on Monday. Logan International Airport remained open, but no flights were scheduled.

Tolls were suspended on the Massachusetts Turnpike, where travel was light.