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Southerners dig out from heavy snow

People in regions unaccustomed to heavy snowfall, such as Asheville, N.C., struggled to clean up after Sunday’s storms. People in regions unaccustomed to heavy snowfall, such as Asheville, N.C., struggled to clean up after Sunday’s storms. (Scott Halleran/ Getty Images)
By Dorie Turner
Associated Press / January 11, 2011

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ATLANTA — Southerners more accustomed to sunshine than snow began digging out yesterday from a wintry blast that caused several fatal accidents, stranded drivers and air travelers, and cut power to thousands of homes.

Snow ranging from several inches to more than a foot blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas — a region where many cities have only a handful of snowplows, if any. And more misery was on the way: The snow began turning to freezing rain in numerous areas, threatening to make untreated roads even more treacherous.

At least nine people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents.

Icy roads were blamed in accidents that killed two people in Louisiana, two in Oklahoma, and one each in Kansas and Alabama. Three more drivers were killed in Arkansas when they veered off the pavement.

The storm shut down most cities and towns, closed many businesses, and canceled almost every flight at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest.

“The problem here is that they’re not used to it, so the equipment and the sanitation removal and the snow removal is not really geared for this kind of situation,’’ said Tino Grana, 48, of New York City, who traveled to Atlanta to sell art at a downtown trade show.

Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snowplows. The city hired a fleet of 11 private trucks to help spread salt and gravel.

Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in chilly, dark homes.

The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 inches.

The weather began rolling across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet, and freezing rain. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee declared emergencies. Schools and colleges called off classes.

Transportation officials reported hundreds of car crashes and urged drivers to stay home.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled around the South and Atlanta’s airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.

The storm forced Georgia officials to move yesterday’s inauguration of Governor Nathan Deal from the state Capitol steps inside to the shelter of the House chamber. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off the roads.

Conditions were unlikely to improve anytime soon: Temperatures should stay below freezing for days, and more snow is predicted. That means treacherous travel conditions could persist today.

The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast later in the week.

A post-Christmas blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on New York City and other parts of the region, crippling holiday travel and nearly shutting down major cities.

At a five-hour hearing yesterday on the New York storm response, the Bloomberg administration admitted to a series of mistakes in its handling of the storm, including a lack of preparation, confused lines of authority, and an ignorance of on-the-ground conditions.

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