Jan 312014
 

Icy roads, schools closed in wake of winter storm

By MICHAEL BIESECKER and MITCH WEISS, The Associated Press

January 29, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina authorities urged residents to stay home Wednesday as most who ventured out had to deal with treacherous roads often covered in ice.

Raleigh Police Sgt. V.R. Johnson was attempting to merge onto Interstate 440 when his cruiser spun off into the snow-covered grass and got turned around.

“Nobody’s hurt. Nobody’s injured. There’s no damage — other than my ego,” the officer said as he stood in a shallow ditch beside his idling vehicle. “Just came off at a low speed and just drifted.”

After about five minutes of backing up and fishtailing forward, Johnson used his radio to call for help.

“It might be a little awkward, yeah,” he said. “But, you know, it happens. Regardless of the best of your efforts to keep it on the road, sometimes it happens.”

All across North Carolina, residents awoke to snow and bone-chilling cold. Forecasters called for temperatures to stay below freezing all day for much of the state, raising concern road conditions could remain hazardous through Thursday.

Total accumulations ranged from an inch or two in the Piedmont to close to up to six inches east of Interstate 95. However, in many places in Eastern North Carolina those totals included sleet and ice, ensuring that many roads resembled skating rinks.

More snow and ice could still fall across parts of North Carolina on Wednesday. The National Weather Service said a winter storm warning was in effect along the coast until late afternoon. In the mountains and central part of the state, a winter weather advisory was in effect for snow-covered roads and black ice.

Road crews throughout the state were busy, scrapping highways and spreading salt and sand.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol said the weather was a factor in separate traffic accidents in Surry County that killed two people.

A passenger died Tuesday afternoon when a woman lost control of her pickup truck on a road covered with snow and ice. The truck went down an embankment and hit a tree. Troopers said 68-year-old Jean Conley of Elkin died. Troopers said it appeared the victim was not wearing a seat belt.

About the same time, two vehicles collided on N.C. 104 near Mount Airy. Thirty-seven-year-old Joyce M. McDaniel of Meadows Dan, Va., died. She was a passenger in a minivan involved in the crash. Troopers say the weather contributed to the crash.

The North Carolina Transportation Department said most roads were hazardous Wednesday.

In the hard-hit eastern part of the state, crews were out in full force Wednesday plowing roads and spreading salt and sand, spokeswoman Jennifer Garifo said.

All roads and bridges in the area are open, but most are covered with snow and ice as precipitation continued to fall this morning, she said.

“We’re still telling everyone: ‘Don’t drive unless you have to,'” she said.

Truck driver Roger Ramiro said Wednesday it took an extra hour Wednesday morning for him to get from Charlotte to Greenville, S.C. After filling up with gas, he was ready to jump back on southbound Interstate 85 to continue his trip to Atlanta, where snow and ice brought traffic to a standstill overnight and into the morning.

“The snow hasn’t been bad,” said Ramiro, 34. “It was really a dusting. But everyone is worried about the ice. So people are driving really, really slow. Nothing you can do about it.”

Duke Energy reported only scattered outages involving a few hundred customers in the state.

North Carolina officials had braced for the storm, marshalling resources and stockpiling supplies for what could be a slow thaw. They compared the extent of preparations to what the state more typically does to prepare for a hurricane.

Gov. Pat McCrory huddled with his emergency management team in the high-tech bunker at the state’s new Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh. He signed a State of Emergency declaration before the snow even started to fall on Tuesday, the first step in seeking federal funds for providing emergency services, clearing debris and repairing any damage to roads and bridges.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” McCrory warned Wednesday. “Just because your sidewalks or your roads may be clear during the next 24 hours, which we are attempting to do across the state, accidents can still occur because the cold weather is going to be with us for a brief time.”

Military commanders at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune suspended operations that were not deemed essential.

School systems across much of North Carolina were closed Wednesday, including the Wake County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Some systems in the worst affected areas also announced closures for Thursday.

Several major colleges and universities canceled classes, including North Carolina State University and East Carolina University.

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro closed. State ferry service was suspended along the coast and passenger rail service suffered weather-related delays. Airports were scrambling to get back on track.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, crews had cleared one runway and were working to clear another, spokesman Andrew Sawyer said. While there were many cancellations for early flights, some were still on schedule, he said. He urged people to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport also was operating Wednesday. But hundreds of passengers spent the night in the airport terminal, stranded because of cancelled flights. The airport put out cots, handed out blankets to passengers. Some of the airport’s restaurants remained open during the night.

In Charlotte, the city said all the roads were being treated with salt. But spokeswoman Kimberly McMillan warned that extreme cold temperatures were hampering and slowing down the effectiveness of the treatment.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper warned businesses and consumers about the state’s price gouging law.

“It’s wrong to use a crisis as an excuse to make an unfair buck,” he said. “Most businesses pull together to help their community when bad weather hits, but if someone is using this storm to try to rip you off, we want to know about it.”

Associated Press national writer Allen G. Breed contributed from Raleigh. Mitch Weiss reported from Greenville, S.C.

Follow Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

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