ATLANTA: The mad rush began at the first sight of snow: Across the Atlanta area, schools let out early and commuters left for home after lunch, instantly creating gridlock so severe that security guards and doormen took to the streets to direct cars amid a cacophony of blaring horns.
Georgia State University student Alex Tracy looked on with amusement.
“My family is from up north and we’re used to driving in the snow and stuff, and seeing everyone freak out, sliding and stuff, it’s pretty funny,” Tracy said.
A winter storm that would probably be no big deal in the North all but paralyzed the Deep South on Tuesday, bringing snow, ice and teeth-chattering cold, with temperatures in the teens in some places.
Many folks across the region don’t know how to drive in snow, and many cities don’t have big fleets of salt trucks or snowplows, and it showed. Hundreds of wrecks happened from Georgia to Texas. Two people died in an accident in Alabama.
“As I drove, I prayed the whole way,” said Jane Young, an 80-year-old pastor’s wife who was traveling in Austin, Texas, before dawn on her way to volunteer at a polling station when sleet began falling. “I said, ‘Lord, put your hands on mine and guide me. This is your car now.’ ”
As many as 50 million people across the region could be affected by the time the snow stops today. Up to 4 inches of snow fell in central Louisiana, and about 3 inches was forecast for parts of Georgia. Up to 10 inches was expected in the Greenville, N.C., area and along the state’s Outer Banks.
On the Gulf Shores beaches in Alabama, icicles hung from palm trees. Hundreds of students in the northeastern part of the state faced spending the night in gyms or classrooms because the roads were too icy. Four people were killed in a Mississippi mobile home fire blamed on a space heater.
The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency.
New Orleans’ merry Bourbon Street in the French Quarter was oddly quiet as brass bands and other street performers stayed indoors.
Lee and Virginia Holt of Wayne, Pa., walked into Cafe du Monde — a New Orleans landmark known for its beignets and cafe au lait — after finding the National World War II Museum closed because of the weather.
“We understand they don’t have the equipment to prepare the roads,” she said. Her husband added: “Nor the experience.”
In Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, alligators burrowed into the mud to keep warm.
“Their metabolism slows down so they’re able to not breathe as often, so they don’t have to come to the surface as often,” said Susan Heisey, a ranger at the national wildlife refuge. “These alligators have been on this earth a long time and they’ve made it through.”