Frozen South: Could be days before thaw comes

By Page Ivey / The Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (— It could be days before icy, treacherous conditions improve for areas of the South hit by a wintry blast that sent cars sliding off the road, emptied grocery shelves and had officials nervously watching ice-laden powerlines and tree limbs.

Meanwhile, New York City was about to confront its third snowstorm in less than three weeks, a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration admitted a series of mistakes in its handling of a Christmas weekend blizzard and promised immediate changes. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning from Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon, with the heaviest snowfall expected overnight.

In the South, low temperatures Tuesday were expected to keep snow and ice on the ground a day after snow ranging from several inches to more than a foot blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas — a region where many cities have only a handful of snow plows, if any. Freezing rain in some areas added to the misery and schools around the region remained closed for a second day.

“The road conditions are very dire at this point,” Joe Turner, a North Carolina Department of Transportation maintenance engineer in Raleigh, said early Tuesday. “The roads are very bad. We urge people to stay at the house.”

The storm shut down most cities and towns, closed many businesses, and canceled most flights at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest. At least nine people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents.

Atlanta’s normally bustling downtown area was nearly deserted for the second day in a row Tuesday. And in North and South Carolina, thousands were without power.

More than 100 passengers who were stranded at a bus station in downtown Atlanta were given sandwiches, blankets and bottled water from a nearby jail.

“It’s a whole lot better than nothing,” police spokesman Officer Curtis Davenport said.

Most of North Carolina remained under a winter storm warning. Kym Littlejohn was heeding the governor’s call for people to stay home.

“The house is warm, we’ve got plenty of food, and we can watch TV,” said Littlejohn, who was snowbound in her Charlotte home Monday after about five inches fell in her neighborhood. “As long as we don’t lose power, we’ll be fine.”

Conditions were unlikely to improve anytime soon. Temperatures should stay below freezing for days, and more snow is predicted. That means treacherous travel conditions could persist until Wednesday or beyond.

“The problem here is that they’re not used to it, so the equipment and the sanitation removal and the snow removal is not really geared for this kind of situation,” said Tino Grana, 48, of New York City, who traveled to Atlanta to sell art at a downtown trade show.

Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snow plows. The city hired a fleet of 11 privately run trucks to help spread salt and gravel.

The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast later in the week. A Christmas blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on New York City and other parts of the region, crippling holiday travel and nearly shutting down major cities.

Now, the Big Apple and its suburbs could get 8 to 14 inches of snow, with reduced visibility and wind gusts up to 35 mph, forecasters said. Long Island could get as much as 15 inches.

The weather began rolling across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee declared emergencies.

In Georgia, the storm forced inauguration ceremonies for newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal to be moved inside from the state Capitol steps. Arkansas officials planned to move their inauguration indoors Tuesday.

Drivers struggled to stay on slippery pavement, and roads were littered with abandoned vehicles. Some motorists got out in the middle of the interstate to push their cars up ice-covered ramps.

“Towns down here just don’t have the equipment to deal with this much snow,” said Joel Weems, a worker at the University of Mississippi.

But the latest storm also offered kids — and some adults acting like kids — a rare chance to play in the snow.

“I’m trying to have a snowball fight with my friend,” said 15-year-old Connor Ormond of Columbia, S.C., as he trotted to a friend’s house, snowball in hand. “This is the most snow I’ve ever seen!”

In Memphis, 21-year-old Ronni Jupson said the roads weren’t as bad as she feared they would be.

“I love snow, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I got really nostalgic. I’m just sad that I have to be an adult and work.”

___

Contributing to this story were Associated Press writers Dorie Turner, Jason Bronis, Ray Henry, Debbie Newby and Greg Schreier in Atlanta; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala.; David Brandt and Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss.; Alan Sayre in New Orleans; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn.; and Murray Evans in Oklahoma City.