By Jay Reeves/The Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Hundreds of people spent a cold night trapped on Interstate 65 in central Alabama as a winter storm dumped snow around the Southeast and caused at least one death.
The motorists got stuck on the interstate in Cullman County after the snow caused a series of wrecks Thursday that snarled traffic for miles.
Hundreds of cars and 18-wheelers were at a standstill on the highway early Friday, County emergency management director Phyllis Little said.
“There are hundreds of vehicles on the interstate northbound,” Little said Friday morning. “Until we get enough sunlight or warmer temperatures I don’t see it changing.”
The backup began Thursday afternoon as a winter storm blanketed the area with as much as 4 inches of snow. The jam was made all the worse by drivers who got on the interstate despite the backup, Little said.
“Even with the interstate backed up as far as you could see people were still trying to get on it,” she said. “Troopers were flashing their lights at people to stop them, and they finally closed exit 310 to keep them off.”
Little said 120 motorists made it to a shelter in Cullman, but many more couldn’t.
Officials hoped rising temperatures would thaw the snow and ice and get traffic moving sometime Friday.
In Virginia, the areas hardest hit Thursday and Friday were in the southwest, where the National Weather Service says 13 inches were reported in Giles County, while Grayson County and the Galax area received about a foot.
Road crews in that part of the state were out in force early Friday to plow and treat roads. Hardest hit was Interstate 77. The highway still had snow cover and there were reports of disabled vehicles along the roadway.
While the winter storm wasn’t as severe as initially feared, icy roads remained a concern Friday morning and some school systems decided to open late.
Parts of Mississippi saw 2 to 4 inches of snow on the ground Thursday. In Lowndes County, Highway Patrol spokesman Cpl. Criss Turnipseed said Johnnie A. Matthews, 64, of West Point died when his car collided with a downed tree about 5 a.m. on Mississippi Highway 50.
Turnipseed says the large pine tree in the roadway appeared to have been uprooted by wind and ground saturation due to excessive rainfall. The winter blitz follows days of heavy rain across much of the Southeast.
No other fatalities were reported but thousands lost power.
Virginia State Police say they were swamped with calls at the height of the storm. Dispatchers fielded more than 760 calls reporting crashes and disabled vehicles.
In Alabama, scores of schools, businesses and government offices as far south as metro Birmingham pushed back their opening times for Friday because of the threat of icy roads after freezing temperatures overnight.