POSTED: 04:32 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:21 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2011
ATLANTA — Southerners more accustomed to sunshine than snow began digging out Monday from a wintry blast that stranded drivers and air travelers, cut power to thousands of homes, and even forced Auburn University to cancel viewing parties for the national championship bowl game.
As much as 9 inches of snow blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas — a region where many cities have only a handful of snow plows, 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.
"If you're off the main roads, it's a skating rink," said Tim Loucks, manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in Haughton, La.
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. At least four people died in weather-related crashes.
"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.
"There was no one on the road, just the crazy New Yorkers, I guess."
Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snow plows. The city hired a fleet of 11 privately run trucks to help spread salt and gravel.
Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in chilly, dark homes.
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 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 — affecting passengers as far away as Scandinavia — and Atlanta's airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.
For those whose flights made it to Atlanta, the sight of snow-covered runways was disorienting.
Larry and Judy Keefauver, of Buffalo, N.Y., thought their flight from Sacramento had landed somewhere else when they looked out the window.
"I have been flying (through Atlanta) since the early '70s, and I've never landed on snow here ever," said Larry Keefauver, 62.
In Georgia, the storm forced state officials to move Monday's inauguration of newly elected Gov. 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.
And in Alabama, Auburn University students looked for somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the championship bowl game Monday after the school canceled all viewing parties. Gov. Bob Riley called off his trip to Glendale, Ariz., to see the game in person.
In tiny Oxford, Miss., where the historic town square got 8 inches of snow, city workers used backhoes to clean up because they had no snow plows.
"They aren't as good as plows, but they do a pretty good job," Mayor Pat Patterson said.
Drivers struggled to stay on slippery pavement, and roads were littered with abandoned vehicles. Some motorists got out in the middle of the interstate to push their cars up ice-covered ramps.
"Towns down here just don't have the equipment to deal with this much snow," said Joel Weems, a worker at the University of Mississippi.
Icy roads were blamed in accidents Sunday that killed two people in northern Louisiana. Two others died in Oklahoma: a woman whose car went off an icy road Sunday and into a pond in Tulsa County and a man whose pickup slid off an interstate and hit a tree near Henryetta the next day.
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 at least until Tuesday.
The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast later in the week. A 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.
Across the South, the latest storm kept restaurants empty and streets vacant. In Shelby County, Ala., just south of Birmingham, Waffle House waitress Stephanie McGougin served eggs and grits to the few diners who could make it inside.
"I think we're about the only place open," McGougin said.
Associated Press writers Jason Bronis, Carol Druga, Ray Henry, Debbie Newby and Greg Schreier in Atlanta, Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., Alan Sayre in New Orleans, and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this story.