Winter Storm Pax: In Georgia, Hundreds of Thousands Lose Power As Ice, Snow Coat State

Associated Press
Published: April 3, 2014

Fears of widespread power outages across Georgia came to fruition Wednesday as Winter Storm Pax pounded the state with sleet and freezing rain, coating trees with ice and downing limbs and power lines. 

More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Georgia although crews had managed to restore power to thousands by Wednesday night.

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Around a foot of snow could fall in some parts of the northeast Georgia mountains overnight. But forecasters said it is the ice that will have the "catastrophic impacts." Wind gusts, some up to 30 mph, were blowing across much of the state Wednesday. The strong winds combined with heavy ice exacerbated the toppling of trees.

Two deaths are being blamed on the storm. In Butts County, a 50-year-old man died of possible hypothermia after leaving his home and having an apparent medical emergency outdoors, coroner Ralph Wilson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His wife found him early Wednesday near the front porch of the couple’s home.  A 63-year-old woman in Whitfield County was found dead inside her home, which didn't have heat, according to the county’s sheriff’s office.

In northeast Atlanta, a tree crashed through the roof of a house, injuring an 88-year-old woman who lived there. The woman was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. 

(MORE: Timing for Winter Storm Pax | ForecastState-by-State Impacts)

Deal urged people not to travel on Atlanta roads.

"People who think they can drive on ice are probably sadly mistaken," Deal said.

Atlanta, the economic engine of the South with the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies including Home Depot, UPS, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, resembled a ghost town. Schools were closed, and grocery store shelves were bare of milk and bread. 

These two photos of an eerily empty Interstate 75, taken this morning by Greg Diamond of The Weather Channel, tell the story:

Greg Diamond

Greg Diamond

Several school districts – Atlanta, Gwinnett, Decatur, Forsyth and Cherokee – canceled classes Thursday. State government offices will remained closed Thursday as well.

The forecast drew comparisons to an ice storm in the Atlanta area in 2000 that left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power and an epic storm in 1973 that caused an estimated 200,000 outages for several days. In 2000, damage estimates topped $35 million.

Toward the east in Augusta, the home of golf's annual springtime Masters Tournament, thick ice coated everything outdoors:

More than 200 utility vehicles from Florida, North Carolina and other Southern states gathered in a parking lot near one of the grandstands at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The state had more than 22,000 tons of salt, 70,000 gallons of brine 45,000 tons of gravel and brought in 180 tons of additional salt and sand.

The goal was to make sure at least two interstate lanes were available in each direction. Then material would be used on the most heavily used roads off the highways. Officials also were considering re-routing traffic in extreme circumstances.

The National Guard has more than 1,000 troops fanned out across the state to help motorists and residents. More than a dozen state shelters, including 11 state parks, are available, but Deal said no one has used them yet. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia, ordering federal agencies to help the state and local response during the storm. Deal said a priority for that request was generators.

Some 2,200 Atlanta flights were canceled, though a few hundred flights still took off from the world's busiest airport today:

Leaders of Atlanta's public transportation system say train service will continue running on a delayed schedule while the region grapples with freezing rain and frigid temperatures.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority spokesman Lyle Harris said in a release that trains are scheduled to begin running at 4:35 a.m. Thursday and will continue running until about 2 a.m. Friday. Harris says passengers should expect waits of between 20 and 30 minutes and customers should dress warmly.

The agency suspended bus service and officials say they're working with state and local agencies to determine when roads, highways and bridges will be passable.

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 Jan. 28 storm proved they still had many kinks to work out

Like state and local officials, many commuters learned their lessons from that storm.

"Last time, I was totally unprepared. I was completely blindsided," said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. "I'm going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life."

Said the governor: "We are a resilient state. We are a resilient people. And we will bounce back … life will return to normal as soon as this storm is over with."

Good Samaritans help push a stranded motorist stuck in deep snow on Stefko Boulevard Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 in Bethlehem, Pa. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

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