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Snow Wallops East, Keeping People Home And Stalling Truckers

January 7, 1996

One of the East’s worst snowstorms in 70 years blew up blizzard conditions Sunday, piling up knee-deep snow that shut down airports, made truckers give up and even closed the doors at Wal-Mart. Thousands were without heat and light.

``We are stranded big-time,″ said Neva Runyon at remote Hardy in the hills of eastern Kentucky. About 18 inches of snow was on the ground by midday and a deputy had to hike to her house with a delivery of special formula for her 5-month-old son.

``We just didn’t know it was going to get this bad,″ she said.

Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports, bus terminals and highway rest stops. USAir said it canceled about 1,100 flights serving airports from Washington north to Boston.

``We’re stuck wherever we’re at,″ said trucker Johnny Vollrath, idling his big rig at a service station along Interstate 64 in West Virginia. ``It’s real bad. ... We’re stuck in the truck stop or the Kmart parking lot bored to death.″

States of emergency were declared in West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. Hundreds of National Guardsmen were sent out to help in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

The snow piled up as an intense low pressure area sucked in moisture from the Atlantic and combined it with arctic cold. Blizzard and heavy snow warnings were posted from Kentucky into Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

Western North Carolina had the heaviest snow by midday with 28 inches in Avery County. One to 2 feet of snow fell by noon in southern West Virginia with 3 feet possible by Monday morning.

Many of North Carolina’s western counties were without electricity because of sleet and freezing rain, and thousands of customers were blacked out in southwestern Virginia.

Some southern West Virginia roads drifted over as fast as they could be plowed, and could be closed for days, said highway worker James Lusk in Mercer County. ``The snow is just about too deep on these secondary roads for trucks to push,″ he said.

More than 2 feet was likely in northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland. There hadn’t been that much snow in the area since January 1922, when 24.7 inches fell at Baltimore, the weather service said.

``This is almost the snowfall of the century,″ said Mike LaCivita of the state emergency agency in Virginia.

Snow fell all the way south into Georgia and northern Alabama, where ice and snow closed I-65 around Birmingham for hours during the morning.

A freight train derailed while plowing through drifts near Blacksburg, Va. There was 18 to 20 inches of snow on the ground by late morning but the cause of the derailment wasn’t certain, said Norfolk Southern spokesman Bob Auman. No one was injured.

Most airlines canceled or reduced Sunday flights into Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Newark, and rerouted international flights. Washington’s National airport closed and Dulles had only one runway open; New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports both closed.

The only planes that got out of Baltimore-Washington International during the morning were two charter flights, headed to the Bahamas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, said spokeswoman Adrian Walker-Pittman.

About 600 passengers were stranded at a Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal in Richmond, Va., with some sleeping on buses. The Red Cross was asked to bring in cots and blankets, said customer manager Floyd Miles.

Tractor-trailer rigs and buses were ordered off the West Virginia Turnpike through the rugged southern part of the state and many voluntarily pulled off other major highways.

``They’re lined up out the parking lot and they’re not letting anybody in who’s not refueling,″ said Kelly Smith, a cashier at a service station along Interstate 64 in West Virginia’s Putnam County.

While the main body of the storm was in the East, blowing snow halted travel in parts of the Midwest.

Truckers filled the parking lot of a truck stop along I-70 south of New Castle, Ind., said waitress Cathy Bray.

``And we’ve got some trucks stuck in our lot,″ she said. ``They’re going to have to call a wrecker to get out of here.″

Many shoppers rushed to stock up on supplies, but others had nowhere to go. The Rouse Co. closed four of central Maryland’s most popular malls, the first time they were closed by weather, said spokeswoman Sari Alperstein.

All Home Depot stores in northern Virginia were closed and many Wal-Mart stores also were dark. The Potomac Mills Mall in Prince William County _ the state’s most popular tourist destination _ also was closed.

Some people tried to take the weather in stride.

``I’m getting tired of these storms. We get one this week, one next week, one last week. I’m conditioned to them,″ said Richard Gindes in Malden, Mass.

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