Ice Storm Pummels Eastern U.S.

Hundreds of thousands without power, drivers abandon cars, as the region prepares for the worst yet to come

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David Tulis / AP

Snow plows clear downtown lanes on Interstate 75/85 during a winter storm in Atlanta on Feb. 12, 2014

Updated: Feb. 12, 2014, 6:55 p.m. E.T.

Across the southeastern U.S. on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands lost power in their homes and businesses as a winter storm clobbered the region and prepared to head north along the Eastern seaboard to drop inches of snow from Washington to Boston.

President Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina on Wednesday evening, and the governors of North Carolina and Georgia have already done the same in their respective states. Throughout the region at least 10 deaths have been blamed on the dangerous winter weather. By 4 p.m., power outages had been reported at more than 300,000 homes and businesses in Georgia and the Carolinas. Roughly 131,000 customers were without power in Georgia alone, as repair crews made labored progress in restoring electricity, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. On a lighter note, the Duke–North Carolina basketball game scheduled for tonight was also postponed.

More freezing rain and up to 4 in. of snow are expected in the metro Atlanta area through Wednesday night. Along I-75 on the way into Atlanta during rush hour on Wednesday, traffic slowed to about 25 m.p.h. 30 miles from the city and remained that way all the way into the city center. Radio warnings advised residents to “shelter in place” and not to attempt to leave home given the “impassable” conditions on any auxiliary roads and side streets. Freeways and city streets were virtually devoid of cars. The few braving the highway conditions had mostly out-of-state license plates. The accumulation of ice and snow was easily more than 2 in. — most of it ice.

Roads in much of the Southeast are coated with ice, and officials are encouraging people to stay off the main highways. Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner Keith Golden said, “This is a very dangerous ice storm, and we strongly encourage the public to stay off the roads unless it is an extreme emergency.”

And people seem to be taking him seriously. “Where you are right now is where you’re going to be tomorrow morning, there’s no doubt about it,” said Mark Arum on the local AM 750 News/Talk WSB Traffic Center. In Georgia, the National Guard deployed 400 guardsmen and opened 35 armories to operate as warm shelters.

While Atlanta grappled with its second major winter system of the season, others along the eastern U.S. braced for the impact of the storm. In North Carolina, snow and freezing rain snarled traffic on Wednesday afternoon on major thoroughfares, including on I-85, prompting some drivers to abandon their vehicles and head to shelter on foot. Road crews had relieved some of the gridlock by early evening, but officials warned conditions were set to worsen as snow turned to freezing rain at nightfall. Washington prepared for 6 in. to 8 in. through Thursday morning. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked residents to avoid travel and advised agencies to prepare “for an impending nor’easter,” CNN reports.

(MORE: ‘We’ve Doubled Our Capabilities’ Ahead of the Storm, Atlanta Mayor Tells TIME)

Temperatures in the Georgia area hovered around 30°F, and are expected to remain below freezing through Thursday afternoon. The entire Atlanta region is under a winter-storm or ice-storm warning until then. All local bus service is suspended, and trains are running on a reduced schedule. About 2,200 flights have been canceled out of Atlanta’s airport, leaving only 300 flights operating out of the world’s busiest airport on Wednesday. Nationwide, 3,276 flights had been canceled on Wednesday as of 4:15 p.m. The Georgia Day Parade, an annual event presented by the Georgia Historical Society to celebrate the state’s colonial founding in 1733, was scheduled for Wednesday but was postponed due to the weather.

This story has been updated with road conditions in Atlanta, the federal state-of-emergency declaration in South Carolina and the cancellation of the Duke–North Carolina basketball game