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Midwest, East Cope With Cold Snap

March 12, 1998

LaPORTE, Ind. (AP) _ Diapers? Plenty of stores had them. Milk? Al’s Valueland had gallons of it. Bread? Running low, but still available.

Kerosene, heaters and generators? Forget it.

``Nobody in town has them,″ Liz Waltman, a clerk at Laughlin’s Ace Hardware, said Wednesday. ``Yesterday they said they were going to try and get us something, but they weren’t able to.″

Bare shelves are the latest discomfort of the fierce winter storm that swept across the eastern two-thirds of the nation this week, stranding Midwest motorists and forcing thousands to flee their frigid or flooded homes. Some 23,700 homes and businesses in northern Indiana were without power today _ and travel on snow- and ice-covered roads was still a headache.

``There are times when you’ve got to let off the gas and slow it down,″ said Tom Nadeau, who spent Wednesday night at the Flying J Truckstop in Indianapolis. ``And there’s times when you’ve just got to park it.″ He let his Milwaukee-bound Home Depot shipment wait rather than chance a wreck.

After weeks of mostly mild temperatures credited to El Nino, the Pacific warming phenomenon that disrupts weather patterns worldwide, the storm system brought floodwaters to the South, heavy rain to the Northeast and a blizzard to the Midwest and Plains.

More than 500 people were at shelters in Albany, Ga., where 11,000 people have fled their homes amid floodwaters since Monday. The Flint River was down 4 feet this morning from Tuesday’s high mark but was expected to rise again before cresting Saturday.

And now comes the cold. After record lows as far south as Miami Beach, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., on Wednesday, icy temperatures returned early today _ among the record lows for the date were 14 below in Sioux City, Iowa; 15 in Nashville, Tenn.; 7 in Frankfort, Ky.; and 33 in Jacksonville, Fla.

In North Carolina, windy conditions were combined with temperatures for a second straight morning in the teens and 20s, and some mountain areas got up to 6 inches of snow Wednesday night and this morning.

From Florida to the Great Lakes, farmers nervously watched fields and orchards, worried that a killing frost could leave their crops a withered disaster.

The cold will devastate early-blooming garden plants and ornamentals such as forsythia, crab apples, Bradford pears and magnolias, said Steve Bennett, general manager of Riverbend Nurseries in Thompson’s Station, Tenn.

``It’s just one of the things we have to put up with in this business. God rules,″ Bennett said.

In Williford, Ark., the weather was blamed for Tuesday’s death of a paralyzed man who police believe fell out of his wheelchair. David Richards, 44, apparently froze to death.

``It didn’t get above 20 degrees up here until well in the afternoon. He wasn’t dressed that warm,″ Deputy Sheriff David Huffmaster said.

In Indianapolis, the 30 or so truckers at the Flying J were staying in and staying warm, though many were grumbling. ``This sort of thing can make a lot of people grumpy,″ trucker Mike Sage said.

But while snowplows would ease the truckers’ worries, a plow enraged a man in LaVista, Neb. As the snow flew Monday, a 43-year-old man stood in front of a plow and defied it to plow snow in front of his just-shoveled driveway.

He told the driver he would get his gun and ``settle this now,″ police Lt. Bob Lausten said. The man was arrested.

Back at Al’s, there were hopes for fresh fruit, last delivered on Monday.

``We’ve never been out of product so long,″ manager Rick Salat said. ``But we still have the basics. We still have plenty of bread, plenty of milk and plenty of eggs.″