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1 More Day Of The Deep Freeze For North Carolina

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(Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — North Carolinians were bracing for another wintery blast Thursday as troops in big-wheeled Humvees patrolled the state’s roads looking for stranded motorists.

Gov. Pat McCrory directed the State Highway Patrol and almost 50 National Guard teams in Humvees statewide to search out and recover trapped drivers and help anyone seen walking after Wednesday’s storm system brought traffic to a virtual standstill in the Research Triangle area.

“As snow and ice blanketed almost our entire state yesterday, the threat of dangerous road conditions and power outages remains today,” McCrory said Thursday. “It is important to stay off the roads so our first responders can address the safety concerns of our citizens and clear the roads.”

State Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said there was no way to estimate how many were stuck in vehicles, though he said hundreds had been rescued overnight.

While the core of the storm that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain to the state headed north into Virginia on Thursday, the tail end of the system was expected to dump even more snow on the state.

“The first big batch of precipitation will be winding down a little bit around sunrise, but that won’t be the last of it,” said Jonathan Blaes, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh. “What we often call the wraparound of potentially heavy precipitation will sweep through the state, especially the Piedmont and foothills.”

At least two people died in what authorities described as weather-related incidents. A woman died Wednesday in a head-on collision in Chatham County. Her name wasn’t immediately made public while next-of-kin were notified.

Breanna Lynn Tile, 23, died in Moore County on Tuesday when a car she was riding in struck a tree.

Some roadways around Raleigh remained clogged Thursday morning with abandoned vehicles. City crews were working to tow the vehicles to safe areas where their owners could recover them.

A winter storm warning remained in effect in the mountains and central part of the state. Up to 3 inches of new snow were expected in the southern mountains, with as much as 10 inches possible around Boone.

Up to 5 inches of additional snow was expected from Winston-Salem to Raleigh.

Freezing rain was expected in southeastern North Carolina.

Icy conditions on hilly terrain closed I-40 in McDowell County, east of the mountain city of Asheville, Wednesday night and temporarily closed Interstate 85 in Durham County, trapping an unknown number of motorists in their vehicles.

Roads from the Tennessee border in the west to Interstate 95 in the east remained icy and hazardous Thursday morning, but only a mountain highway connecting Cherokee and Gatlinburg, Tenn., was officially closed. Typical of the trouble was a blocked exit ramp in downtown Winston-Salem, where a truck was unable to navigate the slick ramp onto part of Business I-40.

“While the interstates are in pretty decent shape in the travel lanes, the ramps are still pretty icy and slick,” said state Transportation Department spokeswoman Nicole Meister.

The storm had been forecast well in advance. Still, within an hour of the first flakes falling, main arteries in the state’s urban centers turned into skating rinks snarled by motorists trying to get home.

Traffic cameras in Charlotte and Raleigh showed traffic backed up for miles, recalling the mass paralysis that struck Atlanta two weeks ago. Commutes that should have taken minutes took hours.

Many were comparing the winter weather to a 2005 storm in Raleigh that led to a city-wide gridlock, children stranded at schools and power outages lasting more than a week.

The Highway Patrol had more than 2,800 calls between 6 p.m. and midnight Wednesday. That’s three times the usual number of calls, said Patty McQuillan, a spokeswoman for North Carolina’s emergency operations.

The storm was severe enough to force postponement of the showdown between archrivals Duke and North Carolina after the Blue Devils’ bus wasn’t able to get to the Durham campus to pick up the team for the 11-mile drive from Durham to Chapel Hill.

Emergency shelters opened statewide. A suburban mall in Durham announced it would stay open for stranded motorists coming from nearby Interstate 40.

A state Highway Patrol trooper also was hospitalized after his parked cruiser was struck by another car.

McCrory signed advance orders declaring an emergency, freeing state resources to react. The governor urged residents to prepare for power outages by plugging in cellphones and finding batteries for radios and flashlights.

Utilities reported about 92,000 power outages statewide as of dawn Thursday, with the worst problems in the areas around Wilmington and Raleigh.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Meghan Musgrave says the utility has about 3,400 field workers on the ground in North Carolina and South Carolina, including 500 from out of state.

Workers from Florida are in South Carolina, while others from the Midwest will help in North Carolina. Duke has about 715,000 customers in South Carolina and about 3.2 million in North Carolina.

Dain Anderson readied Wednesday for the possibility of days without electricity. He pushed a cart out of a Lowe’s home improvement store in Durham with batteries, a big flashlight, a bag of sand and a snow shovel.

Anderson is no stranger to snow, having moved to the Triangle from Denver, Colo., years ago. But he remembers well the big ice storm in 2002 and a cold week in the dark.

“It’s pathetic, really,” he joked, after being asked what he thought of how a few inches of snow could paralyze the South. “But I’m not taking any chances this time. I’m getting ready.”


Emery Dalesio contributed from Raleigh, N.C. Michael Biesecker reported from Durham, N.C. Tom Foreman Jr. reported from Charlotte, N.C.


Follow Associated Press reporters Michael Biesecker at Twitter.com/mbieseck

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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