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Southern Snowstorm Hits Hard


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Jan. 24, Atlanta, GA (AP by James Pilcher)–Eighty-year-old oak trees and utility poles toppled under the weight of ice as a stronger-than-expected storm battered northern Georgia and spread rain and snow elsewhere along the East Coast.

More than 500,000 utility customers were blacked out during the weekend storm in Georgia, most in the Atlanta area, and some 170,000 still had no heat or lights today. Officials said it could be Tuesday before most see service restored.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been living here all my life,” said Margaret Brownlee, an Atlanta resident whose two cars were crushed by falling branches.

The storm early Sunday also dropped snow and freezing rain on other parts of the southern Appalachians, and locally heavy rain fell across coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas. Up to 8 inches of snow fell in some areas of North Carolina. Late Sunday, southern Louisiana was hammered by hail as big as golf balls.

Thousands of people also lost power in South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama.

Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina each blamed one traffic death on the weather. In the middle of the country, 10 people were killed in Missouri in a fiery pileup on a highway made slippery by another storm.

In the West, meanwhile, a storm that started during the weekend in the Sierra Nevada along the California-Nevada state line had dumped as much as 2 feet of snow by late morning today, and the National Weather Service said an additional 4 feet of snow was possible at higher elevations by Tuesday.

Fist-sized snowflakes fell today between Reno and Carson City on the Nevada side of the mountain range. “There’s snow and slush and ice down there,” said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers.

Many northern Georgia schools were closed today because they had no electricity, and some counties in the two Carolinas and Alabama closed schools today because of icy roads.

The Red Cross in Georgia opened seven shelters for people without heat and Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes declared a state of emergency in 20 counties.

More rain fell in Georgia today but temperatures stayed above freezing. A winter storm warning was issued for parts of North Carolina.

More than 2,000 utility workers struggled over slippery roads to reach downed power lines.

“This is the worst storm since Hurricane Opal came through in 1996, and it took six days to get power fully restored for that one,” said Becky Blaylock, a spokeswoman for Georgia Power. “And if it keeps raining and it freezes again … we could be looking at more people without power. We’re in for a long haul.”

Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport remained open during the storm, but travelers faced long delays Sunday as crews de-iced planes.

Fallen trees and power lines blocked about 20 roads in northern counties on Sunday, said Vicki Gavalas, a State Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

“If my neighborhood is any indication, they’re snapping like matchsticks,” she said.

Late Saturday, a U.S. Airways jet that had landed at North Carolina’s Charlotte-Douglas International Airport slid onto a grassy area as it turned onto a taxiway. No injuries were reported.

In central Tennessee, where 3 1/2 inches of snow fell Saturday, a de-icing truck nicked the wing of a Northwest Airlines DC-9 at Nashville International Airport. No one was injured.

In South Carolina, where up to 6 inches of snow fell, traffic on parts of Interstate 85 came to a standstill in several spots because of slippery pavement and accidents.

More than 70,000 customers lost power in South Carolina. Some 20,000 were blacked out in North Carolina but most were back in service by late Sunday. In northeast Alabama, about 33,000 residents were expected to remain without power until Tuesday.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press