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 on Wednesday. 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.
Snow covered Atlanta’s statues of civil rights heroes, and snowplows that rarely leave the garage rolled out onto the city’s streets.
Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Pensacola, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and New Orleans — popular warm-weather tourist destinations where visitors can usually golf and play tennis in shirt sleeves or light jackets this time of year — were expecting ice and snow on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, dangerous cold continued to grip the region even as the storm moved south. Many schools closed for the second straight day. In Minnesota, forecasters said wind chills could reach 35 to 50 degrees below zero.
At grocery store across the region, shoppers mostly cleaned out shelves of bottled water, bread, milk and boxed fire logs.
Nationwide, more than 3,200 airline flights were canceled.