ATLANTA—As of early Wednesday afternoon, more than 200,000 homes and businesses in the South are without power as the ice storm continues to cover the region in freezing rain.
The governors of Alabama, Georgia North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland have all declared states of emergency.
The National Weather Service warns that the storm could become catastrophic and historic. It is predicted to intensify overnight. Power outages have nearly doubled every hour as ice toppled trees onto power lines. Winds gusted of up to 30 mph are being recorded in parts of Georgia.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency starting Feb. 11 for Georgia and directed federal agencies “to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.”
The declaration allows the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster help and authorizes federal funds to pay for 75 percent of protective efforts.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Department of Public Safety and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), is advising everyone to stay off the roads, in contrast to their passive response to the two inches of snow that left Atlanta paralyzed on Jan. 30.
In the first storm, schools and businesses were open and motorists were stuck, some overnight, on impassable, unplowed roads. The Atlanta Journal Constitution joked in a headline that the second storm offered a mulligan to officials who were criticized for bungling the January storm response.
Georgia Power has borrowed crews from around the region, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal told the National Guard to be prepared to help. The government plans to try to keep two lanes of every highway open using salt and sand. Trains are running on limited schedules.
The combination of sleet, snow, and freezing rain is expected to coat power lines and tree branches with more than an inch of ice between Atlanta and Augusta.
Roads are mostly empty as schools, government offices, and businesses remain closed. In normally busy downtown areas, everything is shut down except for a CVS pharmacy.
Coping in the Storm
The few who ventured out are walking to the pharmacy, making their way to the train, or walking their dogs.
“Even in the snow, you still have to do your business,” said Matt Altmix, who took out his Great Dane, Stella. “After the first snow, we kind of got our snow excitement out of the way. But now it’s more the drudgery of pushing on.”
Some at least are trying to have fun in the unusual weather. In suburban Atlanta, schoolchildren were seen on cookie sheets, sleds, and plastic tubs sliding down an icy driveway, until the stinging rain drove them inside.
Sleet punctuated by strong wind gusts, have left layers of crusted ice on car windshields. Slushy sidewalks make even short walks treacherous. One emergency crew had to pull over to wait out the falling snow before slowly making its way back to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s special operations center.
Amy Cuzzort, who spent six hours in her car during the traffic standstill of January’s storm, said she’s spending this one at home, “doing chores, watching movies — creepy movies, ‘The Shining,'” referring to the film about a writer who goes mad while trapped in a hotel during a snowstorm.
In Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Georgia State University student Matt Stanhope, 23, ventured outside to go to a pharmacy but now plans to stay home for the duration.
“Everything is just on pause,” he said, gazing at vacant streets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.