A deadly winter storm gripped the southeastern United States on Wednesday, crippling travel, grounding flights, knocking out power to 363,000 customers and encasing magnolia and palmetto trees in ice.
Some cities can expect more than 30 centimeters of snow by the end of the day Thursday. Major school systems have already closed and residents are packing supermarkets to stock up on essentials.
At least nine people were killed in storm as it pushed across the usually mild Southeast Wednesday, coating highways from Texas through the Carolinas with ice.
Roads in the Southeast are coated with ice, and officials are encouraging people to stay off the main highways. Georgia’s department of transportation commissioner Keith Golden said, “This is a very dangerous ice storm and we strongly encourage the public to stay off the roads unless it is an extreme emergency.”
President Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina Wednesday evening, and the Governors of North Carolina and Georgia have already done the same in their respective states.
More than 729,000 customers were without power in the Southeast, power companies told CNN. More than 210,000 were Georgia Power customers, the utility said.
South Carolina was the hardest hit, with about 220,000 customers without electricity, while Wilmington, North Carolina, accounted for more than 58,000 outages. Georgia Power, the state’s largest utility, warned that hundreds of thousands could be without electricity for days.
Nearly 3,000 US flights were canceled and hundreds more delayed early on Wednesday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta had to cancel more than 800, or 69 percent of flights, canceled, FlightAware.com said. Delta Air Lines and AirTran, the two dominant carriers there, had the most cancellations as of Wednesday morning.
In the path of the storm, the White House delayed a Thursday event to mark the launch of My Brother’s Keeper, a campaign to help young black men. Federal offices in Washington were closed.
Washington city officials authorized a $15 snow surcharge for taxi rides to encourage cabbies to stay on the road. In New York, the MTA Metro-North train system was to operate on a reduced schedule on Thursday, says Reuters.
The National Weather Service called the storm “an event of historical proportions.” Authorities say the wintry mix has caused two deaths in Mississippi and at least three in northern Texas. The storm is expected to move north, up the eastern U.S. coast, Wednesday and Thursday.
The last significant ice storm in Georgia was in January 2000, when up to half an inch (1.3 cm) of ice left more than 350,000 people without power, weather service meteorologist Dan Darbe said.
With the latest storm, “we’re talking a much larger area and a much larger amount of ice”, he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has dispatched crews across the southeast and has activated crews in the Washington region. Shelters were opened in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina to help those stranded by the storm.