Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Georgia faces 'catastrophic' storm

Barrow County residents make a snowman as a winter snow storm blows into Euharlee, Georgia (AP)

Forecasters say a potentially "catastrophic" winter storm threatens to bring a thick layer of ice to Georgia and other parts of the normally temperate south-eastern United States, causing widespread power cuts that could leave people in the dark for days, just weeks after a storm crippled the region.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Georgia, ordering federal agencies to help with the state and local response. Nearly 900 flights were cancelled at airports in Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Many people heeded the forecasters' dire warnings and stayed home and off the roads of metro Atlanta, leaving the city desolate during what is typically a busy morning commute. While only rain fell in the city, up to three inches (76 mls) of snow fell in the suburbs.

The quiet streets were a stark contrast to the scene just two weeks earlier when roads were jammed with cars, drivers slept overnight in vehicles or abandoned them on highways. Students camped in school gyms.

When asked to elaborate on the "catastrophic" warning, Brian Hoeth, a meteorologist at the service's southern regional headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, said forecasters were talking about an ice storm that happens only once every 10 to 20 years for the area. Forecasters predicted crippling snow and ice accumulations as much as three-quarters of an inch (20 mls) in area from Atlanta to South Carolina. Wind gusts up to 30 mph (48 kph) could exacerbate problems.

Atlanta has a painful past of being ill-equipped to deal with snowy weather. Despite officials' promises after a crippling ice storm in 2011, the January 28 storm proved they still had many kinks to work out.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal indicated on Monday that he and other state officials had learned their lesson. Before a drop of freezing rain or snow fell, Mr Deal declared a state of emergency for nearly a third of the state and state employees were told they could stay at home. He expanded the declaration on Tuesday to more than half the state's counties.

Schools cancel'ed classes, and Mr Deal urged people who didn't need to be anywhere to stay off the roads. Tractor-trailer drivers were handed fliers about the weather and a law requiring chains on tyres in certain conditions.

The storm hit other parts of the South as well. In Alabama, slick roads were causing wrecks.

The storm stretched as far west as Texas. In North Texas, at least four people died in traffic accidents on icy roads, including a Dallas firefighter responding to an accident who died after falling from an icy highway overpass.

AP

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