COLUMBIA, S.C. – A blast of freezing rain across Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday closed schools, snarled traffic and caused power outages to more than 450,000 customers. At least one death was blamed on the storm when an ice-laden tree crashed through a man's house.
"Ice is our greatest nemesis, much worse than snow," said Lucinda Trew, spokeswoman for Duke Power, the main provider of electricity in the hardest-hit parts of the Carolinas.
The widespread outages were caused by the ice that formed on tree limbs and fell onto power lines. In Kannapolis, N.C., just north of Charlotte, N.C., authorities say the weight of that ice buckled a 100-foot-tall tree that crushed 58-year-old David Ralph Jones while reclined on a couch in his living room.
While electricity was quickly restored to some, outages by early evening still totaled 260,000 in South Carolina's upstate, 113,000 in western and central North Carolina, 55,000 in northeast Georgia and 34,700 in the Atlanta area.
"The trees and power lines are down everywhere on the road. It's just dangerous to be out," said Rebecca Neal, who was using blankets to keep warm in her powerless Greenville home and thinking about finding a hotel for the night.
Earlier in the day, Neal had gone to her job at a public relations firm, only to find that her office didn't have power either.
School systems canceled or cut short classes across north Georgia, the affected parts of the Carolinas and into western stretches of Virginia.
Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia were being hit with a hazardous mix of snow and sleet.
"Snow we can plow. Ice we can't," said Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Chuck Lionberger.
The wintry mix was blamed for a school bus accident in Cherokee County, on the northern end of suburban Atlanta. The driver swerved to avoid a large tree branch that had fallen across the road, forcing the vehicle's rear tires to slide off the road. None of the 23 students aboard the bus was injured.
The National Weather Service said the freezing rain was expected to continue in the region through Thursday evening and overnight temperatures were forecast to dip into the 20s. Ice accumulations were expected to be as much as three-quarters of an inch, which could lead to more snapped limbs and power lines.
Duke Power's Trew said there was no timetable when power would be restored but a warming trend Friday would help, with 7,500 workers being dispatched to the task.
"Temperatures are slowly warming, degree by degree, so the melting is under way after a very significant ice storm," said Doug Outlaw of the National Weather Service office at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.