School closings mount as ice liners on NC roadways

By Emery P. Dalesio

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 11 2011 3:58 p.m. MST

A driver slowly takes his car through a snowy streeet in Matthews, N.C., Monday, Jan. 10, 2011. Sleet, ice and several inches of snow _ as much as 9 inches in some places _ blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas mostly unaccustomed to arctic weather and caused at least three deaths and left thousands without power.

Chuck Burton, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Housebound North Carolina residents ventured out under a faintly warming sun after the recent winter storm but braced for yet another day of roadways glazed by ice and snow.

"We had to ice skate to the store this morning," Amanda Blount, 31, of Monroe, said after she and her husband slid and shuffled to the corner convenience store to check on its owner. "It's miserable down here. You can't hardly go nowhere."

Tuesday was the second day Blount's 11-year-old son stayed home from his school, closed due to roads left icy by hours of freezing rain atop several inches of snow. Wednesday could be a third day of family togetherness as forecasters warned that Tuesday's midday melt would freeze again before the morning rush hour on Wednesday.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Greer Beaty warned overnight temperatures would fall into the teens and 20s. "The morning commute, it's going to be slippery. It's going to be hazardous," Beaty added.

Freezing drizzle fell over North Carolina's population centers from Charlotte and Winston-Salem east to Raleigh, which had up to a quarter-inch of precipitation Tuesday.

Frosty precipitation was possible again by Wednesday morning, while accumulations of six to 12 inches of new snow were forecast between Wednesday and Thursday morning for northwest mountain communities such as West Jefferson and Boone, the National Weather Service said.

State highway crews spent Tuesday trying to clear roads of the precipitation that fell as heavy snow in the mountains, ice in the Raleigh-Durham area, and both in Charlotte, Beaty said. But plows, salt and sand had limited effect on highways spotted with ice patches as long as the weather remained near or below freezing, she said.

"You can't push it off. You're at the mercy of Mother Nature," Beaty said. "We need sunshine. Overcast is not helpful. The weather isn't going to help us at all until we get some warmer temperatures or sunshine."

DOT said it already had spent about $26 million of the $30 million it set aside for ice and snow removal work for the year ending June 30, and those expenses had all occurred before the third winter storm in North Carolina since Dec. 1 arrived Monday.

"If you can do anything for the state, could you pray that we get warm weather for the rest of the winter?" Gov. Beverly Perdue joked during a visit to a DOT maintenance yard in Raleigh. DOT would use money from its general maintenance budget once it spent the entire $30 million.

Though state troopers and ambulances were busy responding to traffic accidents, there were no fatalities in North Carolina blamed on the weather and few reported power outages, the state Division of Emergency Management said.

"People are being careful, and they should be because the side roads are horrible," said Jeff Keith, a spokesman for Mecklenburg County's emergency transport service. "Generally, people are going slower and the accidents they're having, they're glorified fender benders."

However, a 7-year-old girl was in critical condition Tuesday, a day after she was hit by a van while sledding. Sara King was sledding on a hill in the Charlotte suburb of Indian Trail on Monday when she slid into the street and she was struck by the passing vehicle, authorities said. She was in surgery Tuesday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, a nursing supervisor said.

In downtown Charlotte, police closed streets around the 48-story Duke Energy Center as large sheets of ice slid from its slanted peak.

Avoiding trouble was on Eileen Schink's mind when she surveyed the ice coating her rural road in the Rowan County town of Woodleaf and decided against driving to her job as a bookkeeper.

"The roads are just too bad," Schink, 36, said after deciding to stay home for a second day. Her decision was confirmed when she heard that one of her colleagues at a company that manages 11 convenience stores spun out on her way to work Tuesday, tried to move from her position blocking the road, and wound up in a ditch.

But Jason LaBorde drove 90 miles from Durham to get to his job site in Greenville over roads that were still slick even after most of the ice had melted. LaBorde said he works as a crew chief at an armored car company and couldn't stay home.

"We have a responsibility to service our customers, regardless of the weather," he said.

Blount said she planned ahead for bad weather and was ready in case her husband, son, and her 4-year-old, 23-month-old and 8-month old were cooped up again Wednesday. Over the weekend, Blount said she stocked up on diapers, soups, crackers, and the cheese crucial to the grilled cheese sandwiches that were warming the family.

"It's a nice vacation day. I'm glad to be with my husband," she said.

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