Weather blamed for 10 deaths, major traffic jams in the South

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP)

Drivers got caught in monumental traffic jams and abandoned their cars Wednesday in North Carolina in a replay of what happened in Atlanta just two weeks ago, as another wintry storm across the South iced highways and knocked out electricity to more than a half-million homes and businesses.

While Atlanta's highways were clear, apparently because people learned their lesson the last time and heeded forecasters' unusually dire warnings to stay home, thousands of cars lined the slippery, snow-covered interstates around Raleigh, N.C., and short commutes turned into hours-long journeys.

As the storm glazed the South with snow and freezing rain, it also pushed northward along the Interstate 95 corridor, threatening to bring at least a half-foot of snow Thursday to the already sick-of-winter mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

At least 10 deaths across the South were blamed on the treacherous weather, and nearly 3,300 airline flights nationwide were canceled.

The situation in North Carolina was eerily similar to what happened in Atlanta: As snow started to fall around midday, everyone left work at the same time, despite warnings from officials to stay home altogether because the storm would move in quickly.

Soo Keith, of Raleigh, left work about a little after noon, thinking she would have plenty of time to get home before the worst of the snow hit.

Instead, Keith, who is three months pregnant, drove a few miles in about two hours and decided to park and start walking, wearing dress shoes and a coat that wouldn't zip over her belly.

With a blanket draped over her shoulders, she made it home more than four hours later, comparing her journey to the blizzard scene from the movie "Dr. Zhivago."

"My face is all frozen, my glasses are all frozen, my hair is all frozen," the mother of two and Chicago native said as she walked the final mile to her house. "I know how to drive in the snow. But this storm came on suddenly and everyone was leaving work at the same time. I don't think anybody did anything wrong; the weather just hit quickly."

Caitlin Palmieri drove two blocks from her job at a bread store in downtown Raleigh before getting stuck. She left her car behind and walked back to work.

"It seemed like every other car was getting stuck, fishtailing, trying to move forward," she said.

City spokeswoman Jayne Kirkpatrick had no estimate of how many vehicles had been abandoned and was unable to say whether motorists might be stranded on the road overnight.

"If we find anyone that is stranded that needs water or food or whatever we can do for them," city crews will help, Kirkpatrick said. "We hope it won't be too much longer before it's no longer a problem."

Forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" storm across the South with more than an inch of ice possible in places. Snow was also forecast, with up to 3 inches possible in Atlanta overnight and much higher amounts in the Carolinas.

Ice combined with wind gusts up to 30 mph snapped tree limbs and power lines. More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Georgia, South Carolina had about 245,000 outages, and North Carolina had around 100,000. Some people could be in the dark for days.

The road is empty leading out of downtown Atlanta as drivers heeded advice to not drive during an ice storm in Atlanta, Ga. on Feb. 12. (Reuters photo)


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