WASHINGTON // A major storm blowing in heavy snow and ice gripped large swathes of the winter-weary United States yesterday, leaving 13 people dead and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes.
Thousands of travellers were stranded as flights, including at major air hubs in Atlanta and New York, were cancelled, and nearly 800,000 homes and businesses lost power, mainly in Georgia and North and South Carolina.
The latest brutal freeze to hammer the eastern states of the country since the start of the year has been dubbed “snowmaggedon,” “mind-boggling” and “historic” by major television networks and forecasters.
Small armies of utility workers laboured to turn the lights — and the heat — back on for hundreds of thousands of people in the South.
The region remained a world of ice-laden trees and driveways yesterday after several unusual days of sleet and snow brought by a powerful system that could bring more than 30 centimetres of snow to such metropolises as Philadelphia, Washington and Boston.
At least 13 deaths have been blamed on the stormy weather and nearly 3,300 flights nationwide were cancelled with another day of complicated air and road travel ahead, particularly in the North-east.
State police say they worked more than 200 crashes in the state of Georgia on Wednesday. Snow was forecast to stop falling and temperatures to rise in most of the state by late morning, but ice remained a concern, with refreezing possible overnight and into today.
For some on slick, snow-covered interstates in North Carolina, commutes that should take minutes lasted hours after many got on the motorways just as soon as snow and sleet began at midday.
And in South Carolina, more accustomed to occasional hurricanes, some could only relate the damage from ice-snapped tree limbs to that of bygone Hurricane Hugo. Even normally balmy Myrtle Beach, where millions of visitors cavort each summer, cars were coated in thick ice that also frosted palm trees and kiddie rides by the shore.
“I hate driving on this,” grumbled South Carolina resident Mindy Taylor, 43, on her way to buy rock salt, kitty litter or anything else to melt the ice. “Hopefully it’ll warm up by the weekend and it will all melt. I’m ready for spring.”
The snow, sleet and freezing rain that iced southern highways also knocked out electricity to more than half a million homes and business as it advanced yesterday north up the Interstate 95 corridor to the winter-weary mid-Atlantic states.
Some Southerners who two weeks ago revelled in the so-called “snow jam” sounded tired this time of sleet and ice encasing highways, trees and even the tombstones of a cemetery replete with Confederate graves.
Many Southerners took to makeshift sleds on the ice and snow, with at least seven people in hospital for sledding accidents just in Georgia. Four people were hurt sledding in a kayak that crashed into a pole.
For the Mid-Atlantic and the North-east, the heavy weather was the latest in an unending drumbeat of storms that have depleted cities’ salt supplies and caused school systems to run out of snow days. Baltimore awoke yesterday to 38cm of snow while Washington, was hit with 27cm and it was still snowing. Federal offices and both airports there were closed. Boston also could see 20cm; New York could receive 30cm. The Philadelphia area could get 30cm or more, and Portland, Maine, may see 20-25cm.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse