Southerners struggle to dig out from heavy snow

ATLANTA (AP) — Southerners more accustomed to sunshine than snow began digging out Monday from a wintry blast that stranded drivers and air travelers, cut power to thousands of homes, and even forced Auburn University to cancel viewing parties for the national championship bowl game.

Snow ranging from several inches to more than a foot blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas — a region where many cities have only a handful of snow plows, if any. And more misery was on the way: The snow began turning to freezing rain in numerous areas, threatening to make untreated roads even more treacherous.

“If you’re off the main roads, it’s a skating rink,” said Tim Loucks, manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in Haughton, La.

The storm shut down most cities and towns, closed many businesses, and canceled almost every flight at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest. At least eight people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents.

Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in dark, chilly homes. Predicted overnight lows in the 20s raised the threat of more outages caused by snow and freezing rain accumulating on tree branches and power lines.

“The problem here is that they’re not used to it, so the equipment and the sanitation removal and the snow removal is not really geared for this kind of situation,” said Tino Grana, 48, of New York City, who traveled to Atlanta to sell art at a downtown trade show.

Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snow plows. The city hired a fleet of 11 privately run trucks to help spread salt and gravel.

The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 inches.

The weather began rolling across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee declared emergencies. Schools and colleges called off classes.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled around the South — affecting passengers as far away as Scandinavia — and Atlanta’s airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.

In Georgia, the storm forced inauguration ceremonies for newly elected Gov. Nathan Deal to be moved from the state Capitol steps inside. The inaugural gala was scrapped to keep supporters off the roads. Arkansas officials planned to move their inauguration indoors Tuesday.

And in Alabama, Auburn University students looked for somewhere other than campus to watch the Tigers play in the championship bowl game Monday after the school canceled all viewing parties. Gov. Bob Riley called off his trip to Glendale, Ariz., to see the game in person.

In tiny Oxford, Miss., where the historic town square got 8 inches of snow, city workers used backhoes to clean up because they had no snow plows.

Drivers struggled to stay on slippery pavement, and roads were littered with abandoned vehicles. Some motorists got out in the middle of the interstate to push their cars up ice-covered ramps.

Icy roads were blamed in accidents that killed two people Sunday in Louisiana. Two others died in Oklahoma: a woman whose car went off an icy road and into a pond and a man whose pickup slid off an interstate and hit a tree. In Kansas, a woman went out of control on a slick road and struck a sport utility vehicle.

Three more drivers were killed in Arkansas when they veered off the pavement.

A number of motorists were stranded overnight along Interstate 30 from Little Rock into southwestern Arkansas after jackknifed trailers blocked the highway for hours at a time.

Conditions were unlikely to improve anytime soon. Temperatures should stay below freezing for days, and more snow is predicted. That means treacherous travel conditions could persist until Wednesday or beyond.

The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast later in the week. A Christmas blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on New York City and other parts of the region, crippling holiday travel and nearly shutting down major cities.

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