Thousands of people in the east coast of the United States woke up to power cuts and a major clean-up operation today after severe storms and high winds killed five people.

One of the hardest hit spots was the Syracuse-area community of Smithfield, New York.

Four of the deaths were reported there and at least four homes destroyed yesterday, Madison County Undersheriff John Ball said in a statement.

In Maryland, one boy was killed and eight others, aged 15 and under, were injured when they tried to shelter from tree branches and other debris being whipped around by the wind.

The storms uprooted trees and tore down power lines across several counties in central New York.

The extreme weather raged from the Ohio Valley and parts of New England through the mid-Atlantic region, police and weather officials said.

Roughly 174,000 people were without power in the Philadelphia region, Pennsylvania utility PECO spokeswoman Jackie Thompson said.

CNN reported nearly 500,000 homes and businesses without power yesterday, mostly in Pennsylvania and New York state.

Four people were killed from three collapsed homes and two other homes were destroyed in Madison County, the National Weather Service office in Binghamton said.

The storms had dissipated by this morning, it said.

Ground teams are to examine the area today to determine conclusively whether property damage was caused by high winds or twisters.

The severe weather started yesterday afternoon in northeastern Ohio, where relatively weak twisters were reported before the storms spread eastward along a cold front and gathered strength.