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More Winter Precipitation In Store For SC

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(Photo by Brian Gomsak/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brian Gomsak/Getty Images)

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South Carolina looked forward to an end of frozen precipitation as thousands of people waited for their power to be restored.

A winter storm warning remained in effect for most of the state Thursday. The National Weather Service said snow, sleet and freezing rain was possible before skies clear. An ice storm warning was in effect along the south coast.

What’s being called the worst winter storm to hit South Carolina in a decade covered the state in snow and sleet. At its peak, utility officials said power was cut to 245,000 customers. By Thursday morning, about 200,000 customers had no service, as the cumulative effect of ice and downed trees on power lines caused problems.

South Carolina Electric & Gas reported about 114,000 customers without service. The biggest problem was in Aiken County.

Duke Energy reported more than 70,000 customers without service, with the most significant problems in Florence and Sumter counties.

SCE&G brought in contract crews from utilities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky to help its 1,200 workers restore power.

Recovery from the storm was aided when President Barack Obama granted a request by Gov. Nikki Haley to declare the state a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.

The emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance. Three-quarters of the assistance will be federally funded.

Late Wednesday night, Coastal Electric Cooperative in Walterboro and Colleton County reported almost its entire system down, accounting for more than 10,000 members, and what the agency described as a very difficult repair job ahead.

“We’ve already had one limb go through the windshield of a bucket truck,” said Mark Walling, Coastal’s vice president of engineering and operations, in a news release. “So, we’re working very hard to repair outages while keeping our lineworkers safe.”

John Villeponteaux, manager of distribution operations at Berkeley Electric Cooperative in Moncks Corner, said his crews are also being hampered in efforts to restore power.

“We’ve got massive tree damage. Crews are having to cut their way through downed trees into the damaged areas,” Villeponteaux said.

Officials reported the S.C. Highway Patrol has responded to at least 2,044 weather-related calls through Wednesday evening. Troopers were reported to have assisted 553 motorists.

Mark Quinn, a spokesman for the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, said the problem would likely get worse with winds expected to pick up to 20 mph overnight Wednesday.

“In Berkeley County some of the old-timers are saying it reminds them of Hugo because of the limbs down,” Quinn said. Hugo, which struck north of Charleston with 135 mph winds in 1989, cut a swath of destruction through the county as it headed inland toward Charlotte, N.C.

“Ice accumulation, which is the greatest threat to South Carolina and its citizens, is expected to impact over 80 percent of the state with amounts of greater than .25 inches,” Haley wrote the president in asking for the disaster declaration. She warned some areas could be without power as long as two weeks.

In Charleston, the towering Ravenel Bridge across the Cooper River was closed because of ice just as it was two weeks ago.

In Myrtle Beach, which attracts millions of visitors every summer, cars were coated with a thick crust of ice and ice frosted palm trees and idle kiddie rides at the popular Broadway at the Beach tourist attraction.

The Southeastern Conference basketball game between the University of South Carolina and Vanderbilt, scheduled for Wednesday night in Columbia, was postponed until Thursday. The university announced it would not hold classes Thursday.

Mindy Taylor, 43, was at a grocery store, looking for rock salt, kitty litter or anything else that could help melt ice. It took her 15 minutes to drive from her home as the snow was falling.

“I hate driving on this.” she said. “Hopefully, it’ll warm up by the weekend and it will all melt. I’m ready for spring.”

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Associated Press Writers Meg Kinnard in West Columbia, S.C., Susanne Schafer, Seanna Adcox and Jack Jones in Columbia, S.C., and Associated Press Correspondent Mitch Weiss in Greenville, S.C., contributed to this report.

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

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