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Storm Wreaks Havoc in Eastern U.S.

February 5, 1998

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) _ Thousands of people were without power today after a powerful storm pounded the East Coast with rain and high winds and surprised the Appalachians with more than a foot of snow.

``We are very hungry _ everybody’s starving _ no food, no bathrooms,″ Sonny Senavinin of St. Petersburg, Fla., said Wednesday. He called The (Louisville) Courier-Journal from his cellular phone to complain about being stranded for more than seven hours on Interstate 75.

The storm brought tornadoes to southern Florida on Monday before churning to the north, hammering the Midwest from Ohio to the Atlantic and the coast from Georgia to New Jersey with heavy rain and winds as high as 75 mph.

More nasty weather was forecast for today across the Northeast.

The heavy snow shocked Kentucky and Ohio, where 1 1/2 feet was possible in places after forecasters predicted a light dusting.

``This makes us look like idiots,″ said meteorologist Mark Richardson of the National Weather Service.

In western Virginia, Main Street in Monterey was deserted as snow drifted several feet high.

``It looks like I’ll be stuck here for a while, but it’s OK,″ said Paul Smith, who manages the Highland Inn. ``Since I’m the innkeeper, I’ve got a commute of 20 feet on wall-to-wall carpeting.″

The storm is blamed for at least 15 deaths since Monday, including four attributed to snowy roads in Kentucky. Two men died when the roof caved in under 11 inches of snow at a recycling plant in Princeton, W.Va. In South Carolina, a pregnant woman drowned when her car plunged into a swollen creek.

Kentucky dispatched 200 National Guard troops to deliver medicine to the snowbound and haul people to the hospital for kidney dialysis treatment.

In Tennessee, about 600 motorists stranded on snow- and ice-covered Interstate 40 tried to make the best of the 18 hours they spent waiting for the highway to reopen Wednesday afternoon. Stacy Blackmore used her cellular phone to talk to friends during the ordeal.

``She said there’s a good group of people up there, and that they spent the night checking on each other,″ said a friend, Sandy Bolick. ``She said she traded one guy a call on her cellular phone for a banana and doughnuts.″

About 21,500 customers were without power Wednesday night in eastern Kentucky, and another 54,000 were in the dark in Tennessee. Outages were also reported in Georgia, Maryland and West Virginia.

Rivers were rising in many areas and more rain could force some families to seek higher ground.

``It’s kind of like we’re El Nino’s bathtub,″ said Frank Barnhill, a spokesman for Horry County, S.C.

In Florida, 85,000 customers were still without electricity from the tornadoes and drenching rain two days before. Gov. Lawton Chiles declared a statewide emergency as a weather system moved in from the Gulf of Mexico.

In the West, a storm that had triggered pounding rains and mudslides in California relented Wednesday amid forecasts of more heavy rain by tonight across the northern half of the state.

A trio of storm systems could hit California by Saturday night, with one packing the potential for up to 9 inches of rain and 40 mph winds. Gov. Pete Wilson has already declared emergencies in 10 counties.

``It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better,″ said Dan Keirns of the National Weather Service. ``We’re going to get thumped good.″