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Icy roads pose threat; 1 killed in overnight wreck

By Steve Harrison,\ Steve Lyttle and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com slyttle@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/13/19/15/UJ5sC.Em.138.jpeg|191
    Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    A snowplow pushes snow from N.C. 51 near Matthews on Thursday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/13/19/15/1ab8tv.Em.138.jpeg|209
    Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
    Gaston County School buses are covered in snow at Ashbrook High School on South New Hope Road in Gastonia, NC, on Thursday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/13/19/15/lPFW5.Em.138.jpeg|248
    Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Snow scene on Sedley Road during Thursday morning's continuing snow.

Melting snow turned to ice overnight on many Carolinas roads, and the slick conditions might have contributed to a fatal wreck early Friday in east Charlotte.

Police and motorists report a number of icy spots on streets across the region at 8 a.m. Friday, and they are repeating a request for residents to avoid driving until later in the morning, after the frozen snow and slush begins to melt. Nearly a dozen wrecks were reported at 8:10 a.m. on I-485 in east Mecklenburg and on I-77 between uptown Charlotte and the South Carolina state line.

Schools are closed across the region, and utility crews continue their effort to restore power to the hundreds of thousands of customers who lost electrical service because of freezing rain and ice accumulations. Most Mecklenburg County customers have electrical service Friday morning.

The other big problem is at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Hundreds of people were in line Friday morning, trying to rebook flights that had been canceled by bad weather the past three days. The Associated Press is reporting that the number of flight cancellations in the Southeast and East is the largest in 25 years.

The situation at a glance:

ROADS: Main roads are cleared, but there are numerous icy patches. Secondary roads are a mess.

POWER: The immediate Charlotte area is in good shape. There are still 215,000 outages in the Carolinas, mostly in the Aiken area of western South Carolina and in the Pee Dee region of northeast South Carolina. More than 20,000 outages are reported in Florence County alone, and the Wilmington area has 13,000 outages.

SCHOOLS: Closed, for the most part.

TRANSIT: Charlotte Area Transit System will try to run a normal schedule. The airport is operating but has a huge backlog of canceled flights from the past two days.

TRASH PICK-UP: There will be no pickups the rest of this week.

The fatal wreck was reported about 3 a.m. on Eastway Drive at Townsend Avenue. Police say a car overturned and slammed into a power pole. Officers say there were icy spots on Eastway Drive, and slick roads might have been a factor.

Among the icy spots reported on major roads at 8 a.m. Friday:

-- I-485 inner loop between Johnston Road and South Boulevard.

-- I-77 northbound, between Carowinds Boulevard and Westinghouse Boulevard.

-- Brookshire Freeway inner loop, between I-77 and the John Belk Freeway.

-- John Belk Freeway inner loop, near the 3rd/4th street exit.

-- Independence Boulevard outbound, near Eastway Drive.

-- I-77 southbound, between exits 19 and 13.

-- I-77 northbound, between exits 25 and 28.

-- Park Road, between Woodlawn Road and Scott Avenue.

-- Idlewild Road, between Harris Boulevard at Margaret Wallace Road.

Authorities say it will take the region days to recover from power outages and slick roads after the most severe winter storm the Charlotte area has seen in a decade dropped more than 8 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain, paralyzing the Carolinas.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are closed Friday, but authorities believe that thousands in the private sector will likely return to work, the first test for recently cleared streets.

City plow crews worked furiously through a warm stretch Thursday afternoon to clear roads. But much of the precipitation left on the ground froze again overnight. Forecasters say temperatures will climb above freezing about 9 a.m. and climb to near 50 degrees by Friday afternoon.

As more motorists began venturing onto roadways, the number of collisions increased Friday morning. Several wrecks were reported before daybreak, including one on Interstate 85 that brought traffic to a near-standstill. At 8 a.m., police in Charlotte were dealing with several wrecks and more than a dozen abandoned or stuck vehicles.

Officials warn that roads could remain dangerous for days, especially side streets not targeted by city crews in the first rounds of plowing. Crews were also trying to clear storm drains to prevent flooding.

“I still want to urge citizens to not have a false sense of security about road conditions,” said Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon. “As a community we need to prepare for a few more days to recover from the storm.”

The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County will reopen Friday on a two-hour delay.

To make way for plows, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said abandoned cars on roads will be removed starting at 7 a.m. Friday. Owners can call 311 if their car has been towed; car owners would have to pay an $85 tow fee.

The Charlotte Area Transit System will resume Friday but warned about possible delays. Officials encouraged riders to check www.ridetransit.org for updates.

The Lynx Blue Line is expected to continue operating on a normal schedule. The light-rail line didn’t shut down, even during the worst of the storm Wednesday and Thursday morning.

The city’s transit system plans for bus service Thursday exemplified the stop-and-start nature of the recovery, with CATS originally planning to run buses at 10:30 a.m.

With snow falling, that was pushed back to noon. Finally CATS scrapped bus service for the entire day.

Many business that closed during the storm announced that they would reopen Friday. SouthPark and Concord Mills malls both announced they would reopen at 10 a.m. Friday. Northlake and Carolina Place malls had not announced whether they’d reopen.

Some uptown bank workers are also expected to begin returning to their jobs Friday.

And at least some Charlotte-area florists and confectioners plan to reopen Friday in an attempt to salvage Valentine’s Day business.

In the aftermath of the storm:

• Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and most other districts in the region will remain closed Friday. CMS said that another spring break day, April 15, will be the makeup date, although school leaders are weighing alternatives.

•  The state of North Carolina said there were 122,000 power outages across the state as of 3 p.m. Thursday. More than half of those are in the eastern third of the state. In Anson County, one hospital lost power and was running on a generator.

In Mecklenburg County, Duke Energy reported 14,000 outages as of 1 p.m. Thursday, although that number had dwindled to around 6,000 by early evening and to 439 by 6 a.m. Duke has 3,400 crews working to restore power in the Carolinas.

• At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, airlines canceled more flights than any single day in at least a decade, officials said. Officials said they hope to resume a nearly-normal flight schedule Friday.

More than 1,000 stranded passengers spent Thursday night in the terminal, after a similar number were stuck at the airport the night before. Airport officials distributed cots and blankets to those who stayed overnight in the terminal.

• Monroe said CMPD responded to 1,100 calls for service during the two-day storm, including 232 vehicle accidents. But as a sign of how people stayed home Thursday, CMPD only responded to four wrecks between 6 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The snow, which started Wednesday, turned to sleet and freezing rain overnight before ending around 2 p.m. Thursday. At least three storm-related deaths were reported in the Carolinas.

The National Guard had to help free a stranded Medic ambulance Thursday morning in southwest Charlotte. And heavy snow caused a partial collapse of more buildings in the area, including a bird aviary in Indian Trail and the awning of Paper Skyscraper, a popular gift store, a day before Valentine’s Day. And on Thurday evening, part of the roof at a Family Dollar store in the 4100 block of East W.T. Harris Boulevard collapsed, with no injuries reported.

Meanwhile, the storm system responsible for the bad weather moved up the East Coast on Thursday dumping heavy snow on Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Gov. Pat McCrory advised continued caution. “Sometimes the most hazardous conditions are after the storm,” he said. “People get too relaxed. Limbs are weakened and fall. Other things happen.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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