Millions hunker down as storm hits eastern US

WASHINGTON (AFP): Millions of Americans hunkered down as a major winter storm hit the eastern United States with heavy snow and ice knocking power out for an estimated 145,000 customers as of Sunday evening.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was bringing a miserable combination of heavy snows, freezing rain and high winds, impacting the southeast and coastal mid-Atlantic before moving up to New England and southern Canada.

Some areas along the Appalachian mountain range could see as much as one inch of snow per hour through Monday, while icy conditions could continue to develop through Tuesday, the NWS said.

In all, more than 80 million people fell under the winter weather alerts, US media reported.

By mid-day Sunday, about 235,000 customers had lost power in the southeast, including more than 150,000 in the Carolinas,  according to the website PowerOutage.US, though it appeared some were coming back online by the evening.

The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida and flooding in parts of the coast, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachians icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.

Transportation was seriously disrupted, with thousands of flights canceled, and a portion of busy interstate highway I-95 closed in North Carolina.

Around 3,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled by Sunday evening, according to the FlightAware website, and a further 4,200 were delayed.

Drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from Arkansas in the South all the way up to the Canadian border state of Maine.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had declared a state of emergency on Friday, and snowplows were at work before noon to clear the roads.

Virginia and North Carolina have also declared states of emergency.

Virginia State Police said on Twitter a “multi-vehicle backup,” along with minor crashes, had stopped up traffic on a major interstate in the southern part of the state.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Twitter that up to a foot of snow had fallen in some areas by midday, and that “significant icing is causing trouble in the Central part of the state” as he reminded people to stay inside and avoid travel if possible.

Also in North Carolina, students were shaken up after the storm caused the roof of a college residence hall to collapse, according to a local ABC news station, though no one was hurt.

“Very scary,” Brevard College sophomore Melody Ferguson told the station. “I’m still shaking to this moment.”

The NWS even reported some snow flurries in Pensacola, Florida, while usually mild Atlanta, Georgia also saw snow.

The storm is expected to cause some coastal flooding, and the NWS warned that winds could near hurricane force on the Atlantic coast.

The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the Northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on a major highway linking to the capital Washington.