US braces for another deadly storm

FREEZING WORK: Crews remove snow and ice from a road during an ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. Authorities are warning this storm could be worse than the one a fortnight ago.
FREEZING WORK: Crews remove snow and ice from a road during an ice storm in Atlanta, Georgia. Authorities are warning this storm could be worse than the one a fortnight ago.

A deadly winter storm potentially more destructive than the one that paralysed Atlanta just two weeks ago has gripped the southern United States.

The storm, on Wednesday (local time), crippled travel, knocked out power to more than 330,000 customers and encased magnolia trees and palmetto fronds in ice.

The weather was blamed for at least 10 deaths throughout the region, including three who were killed when an ambulance transporting a patient skidded off an icy road in Carlsbad, Texas, about 240 miles (386 km) southwest of Dallas, the Texas Department of Public Safety said on Wednesday.

"Oh, Lord. It's pretty slick out there," said Fred Neely, 69, a retiree living in Florence, South Carolina.

More than 3200 US flights were cancelled and more than 1800 delayed early on Wednesday, according to flight-tracking website Hardest hit were Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

As the storm moved north, some public transportation in Washington, DC, including service for disabled riders, was cancelled by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Philadelphia announced that public and parochial schools, as well as all state courts, would be closed on Thursday.

Hundreds of schools across the South, perhaps heeding lessons learned in the last storm, which trapped 11,000 students overnight in Alabama, announced they would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday. In Georgia, state employees ventured out on Tuesday to the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, about 130km southeast of Atlanta, to pick up four students who had no way home, said Governor Nathan Deal.

Motorists in Georgia, where thousands were stranded in their vehicles during the last weather front, stayed off the roads after a state of emergency was declared, Deal said. Vehicles that did venture out were soon coated with ice, their radio antennas looking like skewers of ice cubes, television images showed.

A possibly historic accumulation of ice as well as heavy snow was expected to add up to nearly 8 inches of white stuff for Charlotte, North Carolina, and 22cm (9 inches) forecast for Spartanburg, South Carolina, meteorologists said.

The worsening storm stretched from eastern Texas to the Carolinas, and was likely to reach the Middle Atlantic states by late Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Edwards said.

Heavy ice and snow toppled trees onto power lines, cutting electricity to more than 334,000 customers shivering in a region accustomed to mild winters. More than a third of them were in Georgia, where some customers may have to wait up to a week for power to be restored, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink.

"It does appear that the storm could have an even greater impact than we originally had predicted," Fink said.

Shelters were opened in Georgia, with 2800 beds, and Alabama to help those stranded by the storm.

The last significant ice storm in Georgia was in January 2000, when up to 1.3cm 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.

Winter storm watches reached into the Northeast, where heavy snow and possible ice was expected as the storm moves up the eastern seaboard on Thursday.