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01 October 2023

Deadly ice storm freezes winter-weary US

A department of transportation trucks plows the snow in Charlotte, North Carolina February 12, 2014. A deadly winter storm potentially more destructive than the one that paralyzed Atlanta just two weeks ago gripped the southern United States on Wednesday, crippling travel, knocking out power to more than 330,000 customers and encasing magnolia trees and palmetto fronds in ice. (REUTERS)


A deadly ice storm stranded scores of people on slick roadways and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of US homes Wednesday as winter-weary Americans dug in against Mother Nature's latest walloping.

The national weather service began warning days ago that a "mammoth dome" of arctic air would settle over the eastern United States, creating a "paralyzing ice storm."

"The ice accumulations remain mind-boggling, if not historical," the weather service said, warning that more than an inch of ice could fall from Georgia to South Carolina.

The massive storm -- which stretched from Alabama to Virginia -- was also expected to dump as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of snow on Wednesday.

It was set to strengthen as it climbed northward along the eastern seaboard Thursday, with snowfall totals topping 18 inches (46 centimeters) by the time the storm reached New England.

Accidents and abandoned cars caused massive traffic jams in North Carolina, with the usually temperate cities of Raleigh and Charlotte transformed into ice and snow covered parking lots.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory urged residents to stay indoors -- even if it means sleeping at work -- rather than risk the roads.

"If you're in a safe warm place, stay in a safe warm place," McCrory told CNN.

"We've already had two fatalities and we don't want to see more."

Residents of Atlanta, Georgia simply stayed home, having learned their lesson from the gridlock caused by a much weaker storm two weeks ago that stranded thousands of people. It took days to clear the highway of abandoned vehicles.

States of Emergency

President Barack Obama declared states of emergency in Georgia and North Carolina in order to deploy federal resources to help deal with the storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was also in contact with state emergency offices in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to assess their assistance needs as the storm builds.

In addition to the FEMA aid, various localities across the region were readying emergency shelters at churches and recreation centers where residents could stay warm should they lose power.

More than 3,600 US flights were cancelled Wednesday and airlines protectively cancelled another 3,500 on Thursday, according to specialty website FlightAware.com.

Power companies sent out convoys of utility crews to trim tree limbs in advance of the storm's arrival, hoping to head off potentially massive cuts in power.

Georgia Power said its crews were working through the storm to restore power after the freezing rain knocked down power lines and trees.

While it managed to restore power to 70,000 customers by Wednesday afternoon, outages were increasing as the freezing rain continued and more than 130,000 people in the Peach State were without power as the sun began to set.

More than 230,000 customers lost power in South Carolina, local utilities reported.

The severe weather has been wreaking havoc with the nation's bottom line.

Payrolls firm ADP said last week that wintry onslaught has taken a toll on job growth.

Oil prices, by contrast, have been propelled higher by the extra-cold weather and succession of winter storms.

State and local governments are scrambling to cover the cost of clearing the snow, especially as road salt prices skyrocket amid shortages.

Farmers and rural residents are also facing high prices and shortages of the propane used to heat their homes and barns.