Ice leaves about 350,000 without power in SC

By Tom Foreman Jr.

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 8:20 a.m. MST

South Carolina looked forward to an end of frozen precipitation as thousands of people waited for their power to be restored.

Light snow, sleet and freezing rain fell Thursday morning, the last round of winter weather before the storm should end and skies should clear, according to the National Weather Service.

What's being called the worst winter storm to hit South Carolina in a decade left few places untouched. About 350,000 customers were without power Thursday morning, as the cumulative effect of ice and downed trees on power lines caused problems.

The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported 137,000 customers without power, South Carolina Electric & Gas reported about 114,000 outages and Duke Energy reported about 95,000 customers without service.

The hardest-hit areas are spread throughout the state. Power companies said most of the customers in Aiken, Colleton, Dillon, Florence and Sumter counties were without service. Utilities are still trying to assess the damage and figure out how long it will take to get power restored.

SCE&G brought in contract crews from utilities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky to help its 1,200 workers restore power.

The Highway Patrol blamed at least two deaths on icy conditions. Troopers say a 24-year-old passenger died when a car hit a tree around 2 a.m. Thursday in Hampton County, and a woman died around 8 a.m. Wednesday when she lost control of her vehicle on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County and hit the back of a Department of Natural Resources truck on the side of the road helping a motorist.

Troopers have responded to about 3,000 weather-related calls through Thursday morning. They reported more than 350 ice-laden trees or branches blocking roads overnight.

Recovery from the storm was aided when President Barack Obama granted a request by Gov. Nikki Haley to declare the state a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.

"Ice accumulation, which is the greatest threat to South Carolina and its citizens, is expected to impact over 80 percent of the state with amounts of greater than .25 inches," Haley wrote the president in asking for the disaster declaration. She warned some areas could be without power as long as two weeks.

The emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance. Three-quarters of the assistance will be federally funded.

"In Berkeley County some of the old-timers are saying it reminds them of Hugo because of the limbs down," said Mark Quinn, a spokesman for the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

Hugo struck north of Charleston with 135 mph winds in 1989, cut a swath of destruction through the county as it headed inland toward Charlotte, N.C.

In Charleston, chunks of ice fell from the towers of the Ravenel Bridge. It was closed Wednesday for ice, and authorities didn't known when it would be safe to re-open. The bridge had similar problems during the storm two weeks ago.

In Myrtle Beach, which attracts millions of visitors every summer, cars were coated with a thick crust of ice and ice frosted palm trees and idle kiddie rides at the popular Broadway at the Beach tourist attraction.

The Southeastern Conference basketball game between the University of South Carolina and Vanderbilt, scheduled for Wednesday night in Columbia, was postponed until Thursday. The university announced it would not hold classes Thursday.

Mindy Taylor, 43, was at a grocery store, looking for rock salt, kitty litter or anything else that could help melt ice. It took her 15 minutes to drive from her home as the snow was falling.

"I hate driving on this." she said. "Hopefully, it'll warm up by the weekend and it will all melt. I'm ready for spring."

Associated Press Writers Meg Kinnard in West Columbia, S.C., Susanne Schafer, Seanna Adcox and Jack Jones in Columbia, S.C., and Associated Press Correspondent Mitch Weiss in Greenville, S.C., contributed to this report.

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