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February 12, 2014

Ice storm encases parts of the South

ATLANTA —

Slushy highways and streets were mostly desolate and ice encased trees and sent them crashing into power lines, knocking out electricity to a wide swath of the South as the winter-weary region was hit with its second winter storm in two weeks.

From Texas to the Carolinas, roads were slick, businesses and schools were closed and people hunkered down. More than 300,000 homes and businesses across the region were without power and the number steadily increased. The storm came in waves of snow, sleet and freezing rain and forecasters warned relief wasn't expected until Thursday.

Officials and forecasters in several states used unusually dire language in warnings, including calling the storm potentially "catastrophic," and they agreed that the biggest concern was ice, which could knock out power for days. Winds, with gusts up to 30 mph in parts of Georgia, exacerbated problems.

In Atlanta, where a storm took the metro region by surprise and stranded thousands in vehicles just two weeks ago, tens of thousands of customers were without power. Unlike two weeks ago, though, city roads and interstates were clear.

The few that ventured out walked to the pharmacy, rode the train or walked 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."

Stinging drops of sleet fell and a layer of ice crusted car windshields. Slushy sidewalks made even short walking trips 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.

The combination of sleet, snow and freezing rain was expected to coat power lines and tree branches with more than an inch of ice between Atlanta and Augusta. Other areas would see less than an inch.

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