COLUMBIA, S.C. — The winter storm that blanketed South Carolina with snow and ice is being blamed for at least one death and thousands of traffic accidents as freezing temperatures Tuesday kept many of the state's roads a slippery mess.
Jerry Lee Smith, 49, of Greenwood died early Monday from chest trauma after his car slid off a snow-covered road and into an embankment, the Greenwood County coroner and local police said.
It was one of thousands of crashes reported after a storm dumped up to 9 inches of snow and ice on parts of the state. Officials cautioned residents to stay home for another day if possible.
Traffic was delayed Tuesday between Columbia and the state's two major northwestern cities of Spartanburg and Greenville when two tractor trailers slid into each other on Interstate 26 in Newberry County.
Officials were able to reopen one lane of westbound traffic, but could not offer travelers a detour around the crash site because of snow and ice on secondary roads. One driver was hospitalized. The extent of his injuries was not immediately known.
Roads throughout the northwestern part of the state remained covered in ice and snow, according to the Transportation Department, and that was frustrating to some.
"When are they going to do something?" fumed Bill Lee Jackson, 31, a Greenville construction worker who came to a grocery store to pick up a few staples. A normally 10-minute trip to the store took 30, as he slid in spots.
"This is costing me money. It snows and everything shuts down. I'm fed up. I know I shouldn't be. Nothing I can do about it. But it's aggravating," Jackson said about a renovation job that had stopped because of the weather.
The National Weather Service continued winter weather advisories in northwestern South Carolina through noon Wednesday because of problems with black ice on the roads. Similar advisories were in effect for the rest of the state until about midday Tuesday because of a possibility of freezing drizzle and the hazardous travel conditions.
Gov. Mark Sanford ordered state offices to remain closed in 24 counties in the northwestern half of the state. Other state offices opened two hours later than usual.
In Greenville, Mike Reynolds was waiting at a gas station for a tow truck to pull his car out of the snow and ice.
"This really sucks," said Reynolds, 26, who works at a convenience store. "I told my boss what happened and that I was going to be late, but I'm not sure he believed me."
For others, though, it meant more fun time with family.
Mindy Roberts, a native New Yorker, said she and her husband played with their three children in the backyard, using a cardboard box to sled, and made a snowman. She was at the grocery to gather items to make soup.
"It's funny, but this would be considered a minor snowstorm up North. But here, everything is shut down," said Roberts, a teacher. "I love it. We've had the fire going and playing board games with the kids. I almost wish it had snowed a few more inches so we could have the rest of the week off."
About 20 people stayed overnight at the Greenville airport, said manager Larry Holcombe. He urged people to check the status of their flights before coming in. Roughly half to three-quarters were canceled or delayed, largely because of conditions in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.
At the Columbia airport more flights were operating Tuesday, a spokeswoman said, but there were cancellations there as well, also largely related to Atlanta.
The Highway Patrol reported it had handled more than 2,600 accidents since Sunday night. Troopers got help from State Law Enforcement Division agents and Department of Natural Resources officers, said Derrec Becker with the state emergency preparedness division.
Interstate highways were in fair condition, but there were concerns about ice on the roads, said Pete Poore, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.
There has been virtually no melting: Temperatures ranged from 28 degrees in Rock Hill to 33 in Beaufort.
Nearly 1,300 workers were spreading salt, sand and salt brine on the roads. Using more than 700 pieces of equipment, workers had used nearly 20,000 tons of salt, 5,200 tons of sand, and 642,000 gallons of salt brine by Tuesday morning.
Poore urged motorists to stay off the road except in emergencies.
Steve Mesick said that wasn't an option for him. The 36-year-old Gaston resident had to go to work at a Columbia gas station.
"You just have to stay off the ice," said Mesick, laughing as he emerged from his car and skated across the ice in the parking lot. "Everyone needs gas, and someone needs to be here."
About 7,500 residents had no electric service Tuesday morning. Progress Energy reported the biggest problems from Cheraw to Lake City and Sumter, with more than 4,000 customers without service.
Duke Energy had about 2,400 customers without service, mostly in York County.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. reported about 400 customers without service Tuesday morning, mostly around Allendale and Barnwell counties. The Cayce-based utility said it had a peak of 4,000 customers without power overnight and credited its extensive tree-trimming program last year with helping to minimize outages from branches snapping under the weight of snow and ice.
The Dorn VA Medical Center closed its clinics Tuesday in Anderson, Greenville, Rock Hill and Spartanburg. The Columbia center planned to operate on a two-hour delay.Comment on this story
The South Carolina National Guard put 142 soldiers on active duty, mostly to help with traffic problems and to provide transportation for emergency workers.
At Fort Jackson outside Columbia, Army spokesman Pat Jones said the installation's offices were closed Tuesday and planning for a two-hour delay Wednesday.
The 8,500 soldiers currently in basic training were working with their drill sergeants in the barracks and study rooms because of the weather and hazardous road conditions.
"They won't be going out into the field," Jones said. "They have plenty to do inside."
Mitch Weiss in Greenville and Susanne Schafer and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia contributed to this report.