N.C. struggles with snow; 'Respect Mother Nature,' governor says

DURHAM, N.C. -- With temperatures hovering around freezing and more snow on the way, North Carolina struggled to recover Thursday morning from a snow-and-ice storm that left highways clogged and roadsides littered with abandoned cars.

Gov. Pat McCrory asked drivers to stay off the roads Thursday as the state braced for an additional one to three inches of snow that was expected to blanket major highways that crews had just cleared after an icy mess on Wednesday.


"The bottom line is, this storm is still dangerous," McCrory said during a midmorning news conference in Raleigh, N.C. "Stay at home unless it's an emergency."

Officials said three deaths in the state have been attributed to the storm, two in car accidents and one from a falling tree limb.

The state National Guard and Highway Patrol worked overnight, rescuing motorists from stranded cars, towing vehicles from travel lanes and checking abandoned cars for passengers. Guardsmen and police left yellow tape to mark cars that had been checked for passengers. Police reported hundreds of minor accidents as cars plowed into ditches, shrubbery and mailboxes.

Interstates had been cleared by midmorning, but cars dotted highway shoulders, and secondary roads remained treacherous -- slick with ice or packed with snow. The Highway Patrol responded to nearly 3,000 calls for assistance and 1,900 traffic accidents, according to the patrol commander, Col. Bill Grey.

Motorists whose cars were towed because they were abandoned in driving lanes will have to pay towing costs under the state's "quick clearance law,'' said Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon

Crews hustled to repair power lines downed by ice and fallen tree limbs. More than 100,000 customers in North Carolina lost power, along with more than 320,000 in South Carolina, where President Obama granted a request by Gov. Nikki Haley for a federal emergency declaration.

Schools and most businesses remained closed as much of North and South Carolina remained essentially shut down. Some residents spent the night in emergency shelters or hiked through the snow to hotels after abandoning cars on roadways.

With one to three more inches of snow predicted during the day for North Carolina, a state of emergency remained in effect until at least 6 p.m. EST. Up to 15 inches of snow fell in Asheville, in western part of state.

Three to eight inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain fell over the state Wednesday.

The National Weather Service warned of a "significant winter storm"' that would continue to disrupt travel in North Carolina throughout the day Thursday.

McCrory, who spent most of Wednesday night at an emergency operations center in Raleigh, repeated warnings from a day earlier for people to stay off the roads so that emergency crews could clear them.

Motorists who can safely get to their abandoned cars on cleared roads before Thursday's snow arrives should move their vehicles, McCrory said. Otherwise, they should wait until after crews clear roads, he said.

"Use your common sense," he said. "If anyone is left in their car, we'll find them and help them."

Major metropolitan areas such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro were paralyzed by gridlocked traffic Wednesday afternoon as people ignored warnings to stay off the roads and began driving home from work as snow started falling in early afternoon.

The scene was much like the traffic nightmare that caught Atlanta off guard last week, when thousands of motorists were trapped on jammed highways in the middle of a rate winter snow storm. Portions of five interstates in North Carolina were left impassable as vehicles clogged travel lanes and piled up on highway shoulders.

All flights out of Raleigh Durham International Airport were canceled Thursday morning. Some flights were expected to resume in the afternoon, but airport officials warned of more delays or cancellations, with the massive storm shutting down flights in cities further north as it chugged up the Eastern Seaboard.

"Please continue to respect Mother Nature," McCrory said. "It's very, very powerful."