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Arctic Cold Loosens Grip, But Trouble’s Far From Over

February 7, 1996

The Arctic cold that has paralyzed the Southeast and East began loosening its grip Tuesday, leaving behind busted water pipes, slick roads and downed powerlines.

``I wish spring would come,″ said Rosie Heater of Orlando, W.Va. ``I’m doing sewing and embroidery to try to keep warm.″

At least 91 deaths have been blamed on the weather since the cold wave descended last week and pushed temperatures as low as 60 below zero in Tower, Minn.

In Alabama, where driving on ice is a rare experience, temperatures in the 30s Tuesday did little to reduce the number of traffic accidents. Huntsville police reported their worst day yet for fender-benders and predicted more Wednesday if roads remained slick.

The bad road conditions meant a third day of no school for Alabama youngsters. And in north Georgia and central North Carolina, several districts canceled classes to protect students who would have had to wait outside for buses or walk to school.

``Our kids know about sunburn. We don’t know when you’re getting frostbite,″ said Spencer Ragsdale, spokesman for the DeKalb County schools in suburban Atlanta.

Plumbers in Georgia and Virginia were struggling to keep pace with calls for repairs on pipes that froze and ruptured during the record cold.

``We’ve had hundreds of calls,″ said Nancy Dorin, who answers the telephones at J.H. Chappell Co. in Richmond.

Tommy Newton of Rapidan Plumbing and Heating in Fredericksburg, Va., said one customer had several pipes shatter and spill water onto the floor and out the back door, where it froze.

``Those pipes were literally blown apart,″ he said.

Several areas reported record lows again early Tuesday. In Tennessee, Bristol-Kingsport-Johnson City in the state’s northeast corner set a record for the third straight morning as the temperature dipped to 1, breaking the previous low of 6 set in 1966. Knoxville tied a record at 6 set in 1886.

At Chattanooga’s Warner Park Zoo a peacock named Jordan had to be saved by a zookeeper after his tail feathers froze to the ground. An elderly goat succumbed to the chill.

Warmer temperatures or not, thousands of people without power were still shivering.

In North Carolina, about 100,000 homes remained without electricity after weekend ice storms that downed powerlines. But that was an improvement from 430,000 at the height of the storm last weekend. Duke Power officials said outage ranks in severity behind only Hurricane Hugo, which knocked out service to 700,000 people in 1989.

John and Sally Sodana retired to North Carolina to escape New York’s harsh weather. But Tuesday was their third day at a Red Cross shelter in Winston-Salem, where they fled while waiting for power to be restored at their apartment.

``It’s getting a little too far out,″ John Sodana said. ``I just can’t conceive electricity being out this long.″

Temperatures in the 50s brought Florida farmers out to assess crop damage from the region’s worst freeze since Christmas 1989. Most reported some damage to fruits and winter vegetables, but said that earlier cold spells helped ``winterize″ their crops.

For some, the weather has defied explanation.

In Georgia, where lows ranged from 5 in Marietta and Rome to 18 in Savannah and Brunswick, the National Weather Service was predicting a highs between 55 to near 70 by Friday.

``This has been some of the strangest weather I think I’ve ever seen,″ said Miriam Sellers, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Gainesville.

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