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February 12, 2014

Storm leaves Deep South covered in ice

ATLANTA — The second wintry storm in two weeks to hit the Deep South encrusted highways, trees and power lines in ice Wednesday, knocking out electricity to nearly a half-million homes and businesses.

But it didn't wreak the highway havoc in Atlanta that the previous bout of heavy weather did — largely because people learned their lesson the last time and stayed off the roads.

At least nine traffic deaths across the region were blamed on the treacherous weather, and nearly 3,300 airline flights nationwide were canceled.

As residents across the South heeded forecasters' unusually dire warnings and hunkered down at home against the onslaught of snow and freezing rain, the storm pushed northward along the Interstate 95 corridor, threatening to bring more than a foot of snow Thursday to the already sick-of-winter mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" storm across the South with more than an inch of ice possible in places. Snow was forecast overnight, with up to 3 inches possible in Atlanta and much higher amounts in the Carolinas.

As the day wore on, power outages climbed and the dreary weather came in waves.

Ice combined with wind gusts up to 30 mph snapped tree limbs and power lines. More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Georgia, while South Carolina had about 245,000 outages. Some people could be in the dark for days.

As he did for parts of Georgia, President Barack Obama declared a disaster in South Carolina, opening the way for federal aid. In Myrtle Beach, S.C., palm trees were covered with a thick crust of ice.

In Atlanta, which was caught unprepared by the last storm, streets and highways were largely deserted this time. Before the first drop of sleet even fell, area schools announced they would be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Many businesses in the corporate capital of the South shut down, too.

The scene was markedly different from the one Jan. 28, when thousands of children were stranded all night in schools by less than 3 inches of snow and countless drivers abandoned their cars after getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours and hours.

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