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Ice Storm Bewilders Mississippians

February 5, 1996

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ In a Deep South state where the most ice people usually encounter is rattling around the bottom of a glass of tea, the slippery mess left by a frigid winter storm has closed schools, made driving an adventure and kept Bubba Saxton hopping.

The tow truck driver has worked almost around the clock since Thursday, when an arctic front slammed head-on into Gulf moisture to coat much of central and northern Mississippi with a layer of ice up to 4 inches thick.

Over the weekend, Saxton, 23, pulled out cars and trucks, even other tow trucks _ all without the comforts of electricity and water at his home and business in Yazoo City.

A lot of Mississippi drivers ``don’t know nothing about ice,″ he said. ``When they hit that ice, they go sliding off the road. We’d pull one out, then go somewhere else and pull another out one. Sometimes we’d have to pull each other out.″

Police departments across the Southeast reported similar problems as motorists unfamiliar with glazed roadways pumped the gas or slammed on the brakes only to end up in ditches or wrapped around other cars.

The temperature climbed to 32 degrees Monday in Jackson, concluding 76 hours and 32 minutes below the freezing point.

At least 10 deaths were blamed on the weather in Mississippi, including seven people killed in a house fire. Three hypohermia deaths were reported.

The storm left many Mississippians hugging heaters and fighting frozen pipes. Many schools and colleges were closed Monday.

``Ice storms are disastrous for some folks in the North, but here we’ve never learned culturally how to deal with them because it’s only been in our experience about every 10 years,″ Orville Cunningham, a sociology professor at Jackson State University.

``Many poverty-stricken people don’t have clothing to deal with it, their houses are not equipped to handle cold weather,″ he said.

In neighboring Louisiana, water pressure in New Orleans was reduced to a trickle in many homes because so many people had left their faucets dripping to protect against frozen pipes. Still, plumbers were kept busy with emergency calls.

Especially vulnerable in New Orleans were the decades-old, wood-frame houses mounted on piers to protect them against flooding. The exposed pipes are designed for a climate where hard freezes are rare.

Debbie Janssen said she remembered to drip all of her pipes except for those in a bathroom _ where the pipes burst. That problem was nothing compared to the trouble she had in getting a plumber.

``They said they had 25 to 30 calls prior to mine and that was at a quarter till eight this morning,″ she said.

In Mississippi, Saxton said his father, who started Fred Saxton Garage & Wrecker Service 30 years ago in this town of about 12,000, probably handled a few winter storms like this one and ``I’ll tell my kids about this one.″

Allene Dabney of Vicksburg, a church secretary, spent part of the weekend staring out her window at the icicles. Her swimming pool was frozen.

``It was beautiful. I just wanted to stand there all day,″ she said. ``All the children in the neighborhood had garbage can lids, cardboard boxes and they were sliding down the hills. They never get to do this.″

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