Massive winter storm kills three, causes travel havoc in the Southeast

At least three people were killed in North Carolina, the worst-hit state in the weekend's snow storm.

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By Annie Rose Ramos, Kalhan Rosenblatt and Elisha Fieldstadt

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Southeastern states were cleaning up Monday from the weekend winter storm that dropped freezing rain and more than 2 feet of snow across the region and was blamed for killing at least three people in North Carolina.

The storm began winding down on Sunday and was expected to have cleared out of the region by early Monday evening, the National Weather Service said. By midafternoon Monday, the number of customers without power had been cut by more than half, to about 155,000, utility companies reported, and canceled flight departures were below 300 after having topped 2,000 on Sunday.

The storm blanketed several communities in Virginia and North Carolina with more than a foot and a half of snow. A handful of isolated communities got much more, led by the tiny town of Busick, North Carolina, in Pisgah National Forest, which had recorded 34 inches by Monday afternoon, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said.

A Duke Energy crew works to restore power in Raleigh, North Carolina, as snow continues to fall on Sunday.Travis Long / The News & Observer via AP

In Matthews, North Carolina, a southern suburb of Charlotte, the driver of a vehicle was killed and a passenger was injured when the vehicle was struck by a falling tree branch and drove out of control into the front of a church, Matthews police officer Tim Aycock said.

A woman who was living in hospice care in her home in Haywood County in western North Carolina also died when her oxygen tank stopped working during a power failure, officials said. Another North person died in North Carolina from a heart-related condition while en route to a shelter, officials said.

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Divers resumed searching Monday for a truck driver whose 18-wheeler was discovered in the Neuse River in Kinston, North Carolina, NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh reported.

Meanwhile, the York County, South Carolina, coroner's office said three people who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Rock Hill had died before the storm began. Authorities had said on Sunday that their deaths were related to the storm.

Snow started falling overnight Saturday and continued Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina, which has been hit by a tornado and two hurricanes in the past nine months.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said Monday morning that police and fire officials had responded to at least 450 stranded vehicles and more than 100 road accidents.

Sunnyside Farms Arena in Bessemmer City, a suburb of Gastonia, confirmed Monday that three horses — named Honey, Babydoll and Peyton — were killed when the roof of the rodeo and horse show venue collapsed during the storm.

"Please say a prayer for us all," the arena's owners said on Facebook. "Also, please be respectful and realize it was not just 3 horses that passed away to us....these were pets that we loved and will miss daily!!"

David Cole, an in-law of the owners who lives next door, told NBC affiliate WCNC of Charlotte that he heard unusual sounds at around 11 p.m. Sunday.

"It just sounded like distant thunder and banging," said Cole, who said a fourth horse survived the collapse.

Officials in several states urged residents to stay off the roads. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper asked drivers to allow first responders to do their jobs safely.

"Stay put if you can," he said. "Wrap a few presents, decorate the tree, watch some football."

Schools in Guilford County, where Greensboro is located, were closed on Monday, joining those in at least 100 other districts.

Annie Rose Ramos reported from Greensboro, North Carolina. Kalhan Rosenblatt and Elisha Fieldstadt reported from New York.

Alex Johnson and Cristian Santana contributed.