Treacherous roads keep many home

Durham and the Triangle lay under a blanket of snow Monday morning that left classes canceled at the major universities in the area and city government offices closed. The National Weather Service had predicted up to a quarter-inch of ice would lie on top of the several inches of snow by the end of Monday. The thaw was not expected to begin until noon Tuesday, when temperatures will finally rise above freezing.

Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency, allowing him to activate the National Guard. Two teams of 25 soldiers each were put on immediate standby while others were put on alert.

"We're ready to assist in the rescue of stranded motorists, emergency evacuation and transportation, search and rescue operations and auxiliary power generation," said Lt. Col. Barney Barnhill.

Easley warned motorists to stay off the roads Monday, after road conditions Sunday caused four traffic fatalities. The Highway Patrol had received 3,000 calls for help as of Monday afternoon since the snow started Sunday morning.

Chief of the Durham Fire Department Otis Cooper said that the volume of calls in the city was relatively low Monday in comparison to other ice storms.

"People are heeding the warnings," Cooper said. "The roads are not very busy. There are just isolated vehicles--no real traffic." As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, there were no reports of any downed power lines in the city of Durham.

Most of Fayetteville Road, the Durham Freeway and Interstate-40 between Durham and Chapel Hill was plowed by Monday afternoon, and the litter of wrecks that populated road shoulders Sunday was absent Monday.

The forecast late Monday afternoon predicted that the heaviest accumulations of freezing rain would occur in the Sandhills area and Fayetteville, south of the Triangle. The National Weather Service maintained a winter weather warning for this area, but downgraded the Triangle area to an advisory.

"We are expecting freezing rain to blanket most of the state this afternoon and evening," Easley said. "Driving conditions are already unsafe due to the weekend storm, and this additional ice will make travel extremely dangerous." He also advised citizens to expect significant power outages across the state.

"The volume of outages will depend on the route of the storm," Cooper said. But he added that the quarter-inch of ice expected is "the critical point for limbs beginning to snap" and fall on power lines.

Tom Shiel, a spokesperson with Duke Power, said that no weather-related power outages had been reported in North Carolina by Monday afternoon, but that the company has dealt with about 7,000 in South Carolina--it had already been affected by the ice storm making its way into North Carolina. Although North Carolina crews were on standby and in contact with regional centers to keep abreast of emergencies, the storm's path from South Carolina was not yet clear, Shiel said.

"We're monitoring it," he said. "We're going to keep an eye on it."

Facing the possibility of accumulations of a quarter-inch or more of ice from the freezing rain Monday evening, other utilities kept repair crews on alert too.

These crews were in addition to the 1,000 National Guard soldiers put on alert by the governor and the 6,000 N.C. Department of Transportation maintenance workers already on duty.


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