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Wicked weather lands deadly punch

Wicked weather lands deadly punch

WICKED WINTER: Slow moving motorists are seen on a freeway leaving downtown Charlotte as snow continues to fall in Charlotte, North Carolina Feb. 12. Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane

By Victoria Cavaliere and Colleen Jenkins

NEW YORK/WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) – A deadly winter storm moved north along the East Coast of the United States on Thursday, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain across the Washington, D.C., and New York areas, grounding flights and shutting government offices.

Hundreds of thousands of people were without power in the southeast, a day after the storm arrived bringing heavy ice accumulations that downed electric lines and made driving treacherous.

The Washington, D.C., area awoke to its heaviest snowfall of the winter. The federal government was closed, along with school districts in the area.

Washington’s bus service was suspended, and residents were advised to stay home if possible rather than risk a commute through snow accumulations of as much as a foot throughout the area.

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy ordered non-essential workers to stay home on Thursday.

The northeast has endured a series of winter storms this year, straining city and state budgets for snow removal as plow crews rack up overtime and inventories of salt for keeping roads clear of ice grow thin.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio raised the city’s expected winter weather budget by 60 percent to $92 million, funding that will go towards supplies, maintenance, equipment repairs, salt and fuel.

The city’s Sanitation Department had called on reinforcement crews who are paid an hourly wage to help shovel out sidewalks, fire hydrants and other snow-blocked areas.

“Snow laborers help us in bigger storms, concentrating on areas where people are walking, hydrants. Areas where vehicle equipment can’t reach,” said Belinda Mager, a department spokeswoman.

The city’s public schools remained open, which came as a relief for one New Yorker, Lori Hiller, an elementary school social worker in Brooklyn who has two children in high school.

“We live in New York. It’s February. There would be no reason to close schools,” Hiller said.

Winter storm warnings were in effect from North Carolina to Maine, with the National Weather Service warning of “hazardous” road conditions throughout the region. As much as 8 inches was forecast to fall from eastern Pennsylvania to Maine, with accumulations reaching a foot in places.

About 5,066 domestic U.S. flights were canceled and another roughly 636 were delayed on Thursday, with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport the hardest hit, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.

ICE STORM

The storm system, which has dumped heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain from eastern Texas to the Carolinas since Tuesday, was blamed for at least 13 deaths in the South and for knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

An ice storm warning was in effect for parts of central Georgia on Thursday morning, after about one inch of ice had accumulated there and into South Carolina. Schools across the South were closed again on Thursday.

Nearly 230,000 Georgia Power customers were without electricity Thursday morning, with half of the outages reported in the Augusta area.

Utility spokeswoman Carol Boatwright said it would be “a matter of days, not weeks” before the power was restored to all customers.

“The catastrophic part is mostly the ice across the South where they’re getting anywhere from a half inch to an inch of ice accumulating on power lines and trees,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

Traffic on interstate highways ground to a halt on Wednesday as the snowfall picked up quickly and fatal road accidents and weather-related deaths were reported in Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Looking to add some comic relief to the dreary weather, a sheriff in north Georgia joked on Facebook that Valentine’s Day was canceled due to the unsafe driving conditions.

“Men who live in the designated ‘NO VALENTINES DAY ZONE’ are exempt from having to run out and buy lottery scratchers and Hershey bars from the corner stores until February 18, 2014, due to ice, snow, freezing rain,” Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry posted on the department’s Facebook page.

(Additional reporting by Jim Brumm in Wilmington, North Carolina, David Beasley in Atlanta, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Bill Trott in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone)

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