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Eastern US in the grip of massive winter storm

Thursday, 13 February 2014 - 9:59am IST | Place: Atlanta | Agency: Reuters

The American capital of Washington DC is braced for a massive winter storm that knocked down power in nearly half a million homes and businesses in southeast United States on Wednesday before moving north to wallop the Washington region.

More than 97 million Americans in more than 20 states, including Louisiana and South Carolina, are in the path of the storm being blamed for at least 13 deaths. Winter storm warnings and advisories were in place from Arkansas east to much of the Atlantic coast, the National Weather Service said. The storm is expected to sock the northeastern United States in the next two days with up to 15 inches (38 cm) of snow.

"We definitely consider this to be a high-impact event, and we're definitely telling everyone to stay off the roads and stay inside as much as possible," said Carl Barnes, a weather service forecaster in Sterling, Virginia.

Snow and freezing rain that pummeled the states of South Carolina and North Carolina created a dangerous commute for drivers in a hurry to get home as the snowfall got heavier and the ice thickened. National Guard troops were stationed along major inter state roads in the state, ready to respond to wrecks on dangerous snow-covered roads.

A possibly historic accumulation of ice as well as heavy snow was expected to add up to nearly 8 inches (20 cm) of frozen precipitation for Charlotte, North Carolina, and 9 inches (23 cm) were forecast for Spartanburg, South Carolina, meteorologists said. More than an inch (2.5 cm) of ice was possible from central Georgia into South Carolina by Thursday morning, according to forecasters.

Traffic on interstate highways ground to a halt, and at least one snow plow went off a North Carolina highway into a ditch.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency for all counties in South Carolina. He issued a similar declaration for 91 counties in Georgia on Tuesday. The declaration authorises the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support the states in their efforts to respond to the storm.

In southeastern US, the Department of Energy reported that 363,000 power customers were without electricity as of mid-afternoon. More than a third of them were in Georgia, where some residents may have to wait up to a week for power to be restored, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink. About 5,000 people were without power in Birmingham, Alabama, with more than 6 inches (15 cm) of snow expected. Roads were closed across the northern part of the state, authorities said.

Most motorists in Georgia, where thousands were stranded in their vehicles during the last weather front, stayed off the roads after a state of emergency was declared, Governor Nathan Deal said. Vehicles that did venture out were soon coated with ice, their radio antennas looking like ice skewers, television images showed.

Shelters were opened in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina to help those stranded by the storm. 

According to the National Weather Service, dangerous ice and snow is expected to intensify as the storm moves up the Eastern Seaboard, affecting locations across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. New York, Philadelphia and Washington are expected to get 6 to 12 inches of snow. But suburbs just to the west of those cities could get more than a foot with ice on top of that.

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