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Freezing rain adds to South's headaches

Much of the South was expecting freezing rain overnight from a storm that caused at least 8 traffic deaths and forced the world's busiest airport to come to a near standstill.
Image:
This car in Charlotte, N.C., was among the hundreds that slid off icy roads across the South on Monday.Chuck Burton / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Much of the South was expecting freezing rain overnight from a storm that caused at least 8 traffic deaths and forced the world's busiest airport to come to a near standstill.

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.

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 long halls at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were nearly deserted after Delta canceled 1,450 flights Monday. On Sunday it had cut about 500 flights there.

AirTran Airways canceled all of the 330 flights it had scheduled into or out of Atlanta on Monday.

And more misery was on the way: The snow began turning to freezing rain in numerous areas, threatening to make untreated roads even more treacherous.

"If you're off the main roads, it's a skating rink," said Tim Loucks, manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in Haughton, La.

Michigan native Phil Cooper, who lives in Marietta, a northern suburb of Atlanta, said he drove 20 miles Monday on highways he said were barely plowed to get to work in Atlanta's Buckead neighborhood.

"Pretty normal for Michigan, but here in Atlanta, you take 16 lanes of highway and it turns into two," Cooper said.

Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in dark, chilly homes. Predicted overnight lows in the 20s raised the threat of more outages caused by snow and freezing rain accumulating on tree branches and power lines.

The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 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. Schools and colleges called off classes.

For those whose flights made it to Atlanta, the sight of snow-covered runways was disorienting.

Larry and Judy Keefauver, of Buffalo, N.Y., thought their flight from Sacramento had landed somewhere else when they looked out the window.

"I have been flying (through Atlanta) since the early '70s, and I've never landed on snow here ever," said Larry Keefauver, 62.

In Georgia, the storm forced inauguration ceremonies for newly elected Gov. Nathan deal to be moved from the state Capitol steps inside. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off the roads. Arkansas officials planned to move their inauguration indoors Tuesday.

And in Alabama, Auburn University students looked for somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the championship bowl game Monday after the school canceled all viewing parties. Gov. Bob Riley called off his trip to Glendale, Ariz., to see the game in person.

States across the South clean up after a major snowstorm, while the Northeast is again hit with several more inches of snow.



In tiny Oxford, Miss., where the historic town square got 8 inches of snow, city workers used backhoes to clean up because they had no snow plows.

"They aren't as good as plows, but they do a pretty good job," Mayor Pat Patterson said.

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.

Icy roads were blamed in accidents that killed two people Sunday in Louisiana. Two others died in Oklahoma: a woman whose car went off an icy road and into a pond and a man whose pickup slid off an interstate and hit a tree. In Kansas, a woman went out of control on a slick road and struck a sport utility vehicle.

Three more drivers were killed in Arkansas when they veered off the pavement.

A number of motorists were stranded overnight along Interstate 30 from Little Rock into southwestern Arkansas after jackknifed trailers blocked the highway for hours at a time.

"Once one accident was cleared, the traffic would move, and then another truck or two would jackknife," state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

In Nashville, Tenn., Jay Rebisz described the roads as terrible, saying he'd seen many cars abandoned where they had spun out.

"With the economy being what it is, people are trying to make it to work no matter what," said Rebisz. He and a friend operate a private snowplow and had been busy all day clearing out apartment complexes, parking lots and shopping centers.

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.

For many in Alabama, the most acute fear was of power outages that could prevent a football-obsessed state watching Monday night's BCS Bowl game between the Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks.

Local sports websites contained information on how to rig up a battery-operated TV set just in case.

The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast by Tuesday night. 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.