ATLANTA – Freezing rain and sleet coated parts of the Southeast with a layer of ice Saturday, canceling hundreds of airline flights, knocking out power to thousands of customers and shutting down sections of every interstate highway in the metro Atlanta area.
Three weather-related traffic deaths were reported, two in Georgia and one in South Carolina, police said.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (search), only one of the four runways was open for much of the day and "very few flights are coming or going," said airport spokeswoman Felicia Browder.
AirTran (search) alone canceled 90 flights for the day, spokesman Tad Hutcheson said.
"It was the worst possible combination of ice, sleet and freezing rain," Hutcheson said. "That is the hardest stuff to get off the planes. They were spraying the de-icing fluid on the plane to get it off, and it was refreezing."
Delta could not provide a number of canceled flights until the end of the day, but had cut its schedule systemwide by about 40 percent in anticipation of the storm, spokesman Anthony Black said.
In South Carolina, Delta, Northwest Airlines, U.S. Airways, and others canceled flights from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and from Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
The atrium at the Atlanta airport became a campground for hundreds of stranded travelers after airlines canceled 49 departures and 147 arrivals. "That is about 10 percent of what we normally do for flights," airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas said.
The Atlanta Hawks (search) basketball team spent the night at the airport aboard their chartered airplane waiting to be deiced and then for permission to take off, and finally gave up Saturday morning and went to a hotel to await word on their scheduled Saturday night game in Memphis against the Grizzlies.
The team finally got a flight out of Atlanta late Saturday afternoon, arriving in Memphis a little more than an hour before the game.
The ice also accumulated on power lines and tree limbs, and at least 109,000 Georgia Power customers were without power Saturday afternoon, about half of them in the Atlanta area, said spokesman Tal Wright.
Georgia Electric Membership Corp. (search) reported 39,000 homes and businesses without power around the state.
The number of Georgia customers without power was expected to grow significantly during the night as ice continued to accumulate, and utilities in the Carolinas made preparations for expected outages, utility officials said.
Throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area, wrecks led police to shut down sections of Interstates 85, 20, 75 and 285 and some other highways during the morning, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Karlene Barron. Most were reopened by midday, officials said.