LOUISIANA – The land of okra and black-eyed peas was getting a taste of Buffalo on Thursday, as a powerful winter storm dumped snow and deposited an icy glaze on roads extending from Louisiana to Virginia. The blast from the North caused power failures, triggered hundreds of traffic accidents, knotted air travel at the world’s busiest airport and prompted South Carolina’s governor to call up the National Guard to help stranded drivers.
At least eight deaths, all as a result of traffic accidents, were blamed on the storm. The storm had dumped 4 to 7 inches of snow in areas of North Carolina by Thursday morning, and up to a foot was possible in the northeastern part of the state by the end of the day, when the storm was expected to move offshore, the National Weather Service said. Other southern states also were expecting further snowfall during the day.
South Carolina’s 64,000 state employees were told to stay home. Gov. Jim Hodges activated 100 National Guard members Wednesday night to assist marooned motorists, while police responded to more than 900 accidents across the state.
At Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport — the world’s busiest — thousands of passengers were stuck Thursday after more than 500 flights were canceled. Some arriving planes waited two hours to get to a gate while departing aircraft queued up to be de-iced.
Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said the two open runways were handling about 20 to 30 flights an hour Thursday morning, compared to 180 flights an hour in good weather. Delta Air Lines, which is based in Atlanta, canceled 300 flights on Wednesday and was expected to scrap several dozen more on Thursday. Other airlines also were scaling back service.
There were spotty power outages in the region, including 30,000 South Carolina Electric & Gas customers who lost electricity because of sleet and freezing rain, spokeswoman Mary Green Brown said.
Meanwhile, parts of southern Mississippi recorded 3 inches of snow, and Montgomery, Ala., reported 4 inches — the most in that city since a blizzard nine years ago dumped half a foot.
Snow and sleet in Alabama fell to within about 100 miles of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, and a freeze warning was posted along the coast for Thursday. In Tallahassee, Fla., more than 170 people crammed into a shelter to escape the cold.