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Deadly Snowstorm Sweeps Up East Coast

December 5, 2002

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More than 1.6 million homes and businesses were without electricity Thursday from Oklahoma to the Carolinas as a deadly snow and ice storm snapped power lines, canceled airline flights and shut down schools and some government offices.

The storm spread freezing rain and up to a foot of snow from the Texas Panhandle to Virginia on Wednesday, then veered up the East Coast on Thursday. It was blamed for at least 13 deaths, mostly from traffic accidents: six in Kentucky, three in Missouri, two in Arkansas and one each in Tennessee and North Carolina.

``We’ve got wrecks everywhere,″ Virginia State Police Sgt. D.A. Shaver said. ``We’re calling troopers in to handle the influx, but it will get worse before it gets better.″

``It isn’t fun driving sideways,″ commuter John Budnick of Massapequa Park, N.Y., said of morning conditions on Long Island. ``It’s getting worse, too.″

Schools were closed Thursday in parts of the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, New Jersey, Tennessee and Kentucky. A few schools closed in Connecticut and New York City’s northern suburbs.

The Carolinas were the hardest hit as freezing rain coated trees and power lines.

Duke Power said about 1.2 million customers were blacked out Thursday in North and South Carolina, far surpassing the record number affected when Hurricane Hugo tore through the region in 1989. The utility said it could be days before electricity is restored.

Carolina Power & Light reported a peak of 466,000 customers without service. Its worst natural disaster was Hurricane Fran in 1996, which knocked out power 791,000 customers.

Other utilities in the Carolinas also had thousands of customers without power.

Some 3,000 stranded travelers spent the night at North Carolina’s Charlotte-Douglas International Airport as the storm snarled air hubs in Charlotte, where many US Airways flights transfer and in Atlanta, Delta’s primary hub.

The storm also played havoc with airline traffic in the Northeast. A Delta shuttle left New York’s LaGuardia Airport for Washington on time at 7:30 a.m., but by the time it arrived Washington’s Reagan National Airport had shut down. The pilot announced he was returning to LaGuardia, but the flight was diverted again. The plane eventually landed at Hartford, Conn., shortly after 10 a.m.

LaGuardia reported delays of up to an hour at midmorning and some flights were canceled at Newark Liberty International Airport. New York’s Kennedy International reported no delays.

In Raleigh, N.C., the steady cracks of pines and oaks buckling under the weight of ice sounded like gunshots during hunting season.

A 30-foot section of a pine tree crashed into Richard Wallace’s roof, but he took the damage in stride. ``You have to put some things in perspective,″ he said.

Snow started falling as early as Monday in the mountains of New Mexico, where up to a foot had accumulated by Wednesday. Parts of northwestern Oklahoma also got nearly a foot of snow, and 10 inches had fallen by Thursday in the mountains of western Virginia. The Blue Ridge Parkway was shut down Thursday in North Carolina as a foot of snow piled up in some areas.

Up to 6 inches had fallen by midday Thursday in southern New Jersey.

In the Ohio Valley, 5-year-old Mason Modglin of Anna, Ill., got his ``first official snow day,″ said his mother.

``He told me, ’Mom, I looked outside with my little eyes and it was all white!‴ said Jean Modglin, who manages a bookstore.


On the Net:

National Weather Service: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov

Intellicast: http://www.intellicast.com

University of Michigan site: http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet

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