Snow and strong winds socked the South today, snarling travel and closing schools, as a record cold held its grip on the Midwest and East. Even the polar bears were kept inside their heated dens at the zoo in Columbia, S.C.
The weather has been blamed for 31 deaths since Saturday, including 13 by exposure. In addition, three Memphis, Tenn., youngsters died when a space heater left too close to a bed sparked a house fire.
Record cold temperatures for the date were reported in 11 cities, from Grand Rapids, Mich., where it was 15 below zero, to Baltimore, where it was 8 degrees above zero.
Snow stretched from eastern Kansas to the Atlantic Coast, with nearly a foot in parts of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi, and 10 inches in North Carolina and nine in Alabama.
In Nashville, Tenn., more than five inches of snow fell.
Homeless Crowd Shelters
Thousands of homeless people flocked to already crowded shelters, prompting authorities to open armories and state buildings.
North Carolina Gov. James G. Martin ordered that all the state's 101 National Guard armories remain open for the duration of the storm for those who need refuge.
Thirty people spent the night in a McDonald's restaurant near Walters, Okla., using borrowed blankets and pillows and sleeping wherever they could. The storm dumped up to a foot of snow on parts of Oklahoma.
"Once you got somewhere, it was ridiculous to try to go any further," said Randy Bruce, assistant manager of the McDonald's. "We stayed up all night giving away coffee."
Many flights were delayed or canceled in Atlanta; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; North Carolina, and Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. In South Carolina, Greyhound canceled bus service in Greenville and Columbia, and Greenville-Spartanburg Airport opened and closed throughout the day. City buses were parked today in Birmingham, Ala.
Officials closed schools in parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, northern Mississippi, Missouri and Kansas.
In north Georgia, some snowplows gave up trying to clear mountain roads of up to 11 inches of snow.
'Just About Paralyzed'
"We're just about paralyzed here," said Helen Cox, a dispatcher at the Whitfield County sheriff's office in extreme northwest Georgia. "We're just trying to do emergency-type things."
She added, "It's beautiful, though."
The storm closed stretches of highways and caused hundreds of traffic accidents throughout the South, where snow and ice turned highways into skating rinks.