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Deep Snow Hits Central Appalachians

January 28, 1998

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ A soggy winter storm dumped more than 3 feet of snow on the central Appalachians, stranding hundreds of travelers along highways and leaving thousands of customers without electricity today.

Some travelers had to spend the night in their snowbound vehicles.

National Guard troops were mobilized in North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. States of emergency were declared in all of North Carolina and part of southern West Virginia.

Heavy rain and wind lashed lower elevations, where coastal flood warnings were posted with seas up to 12 high.

Interstate 40 remained closed today through the mountains of western North Carolina, where two traffic deaths were blamed on the weather.

``The storm itself did not surprise us,″ Brian McFeaters of North Carolina’s emergency management division said today. ``It was forecast to be a strong northeaster along the coast. What did catch us totally by surprise is all the snow in the mountains.″

Twenty Georgia teen-agers suffered cuts, bruises and broken bones Tuesday when their tour bus slid off Interstate 81 in hilly southwest Virginia and overturned, state police said.

``The whole entire left side was torn out of the bus,″ said 1st Sgt. David Shaver. ``They were very fortunate. The snow that was there and all the mud helped to cushion their impact.″

The storm started early Tuesday, and more than 3 feet of snow was on the ground by this afternoon at Beckley, W.Va., while only rain fell 60 miles away at Charleston. As much as 2 1/2 feet fell in eastern Tennessee, with about 2 feet in parts of western North Carolina and just over a foot in eastern Kentucky and western Virginia.

Snow totals could hit 4 feet at highest elevations in West Virginia, the National Weather Service said. ``It will probably will be good for skiers _ if they can get there,″ said meteorologist Phil Zinn in Charleston.

``We’ll probably just stay in today,″ said Lanell Spencer of Beckley, W.Va. ``We don’t have much choice.″

North Carolina National Guard troops rescued 500 motorists snowbound along I-40, taking many of them to shelters. Part of the highway also was closed across the state line in Tennessee.

``We couldn’t even get to a motel,″ said Frank Dorrance of Pueblo, Colo., who spent four hours stuck on I-40 with his family before ending up at Pisgah (N.C.) High School.

Some motorists on I-40 had to spend the night in their vehicles and were still stranded by midmorning today.

``We hope to get I-40 open by the end of the day; this was a life-threatening situation in some parts of the state,″ North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said today.

Kentucky National Guardsmen had to rescue about 30 motorists stranded by snow and fallen trees on a highway over Black Mountain in Harlan County, and travel was still discouraged today.

Power outages left more than 77,000 homes and businesses without lights today in North Carolina, down from a peak of more than 100,000, and at least 55,000 were blacked out in West Virginia.

Tree limbs weighted down by the snow continued falling onto power lines today and utility repair crews had trouble keeping up, said Steve Volstad of Carolina Power & Light.

``The more they fix, the more they get nowhere,″ Volstad said.

Outages also blacked out much of Bristol, Va., and the surrounding area along the Virginia-Tennessee line, as well as parts of the Harrisonburg area in the Shenandoah Valley. Widespread outages were reported in Tennessee.

Thirty-two people were evacuated from their homes because of snow and power outages in Tennessee’s Carter County, where flooding earlier this month killed seven people and forced hundreds to flee their homes.

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