Winter weather slams S.C., federal disaster declared
COLUMBIA- The Obama administration declared South Carolina a federal disaster area on Wednesday, as the worst winter weather in a decade knocked out power to thousands and snow, ice and sleet paralyzed the region.
By the Numbers:
5,100 - Department of Transportation workers on the road
354 - Officers on the streets, working 12-hour shifts
2 - Crashes have taken place; one on Interstate 95 (a fatality), one on Interstate 26
125 - National Guardsmen active and responding
12 - Shelters open throughout the state
4,400 - Tons of salt to last through Friday
1 - Bridge closed, the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge in Charleston
96,000 - Power outages reported by SCE&G
There were 245,000 winter-weary South Carolinians without power as of Wednesday afternoon, and flights were cancelled throughout the state. Snowfall was expected to range from as much as 10 inches in the mountains to an inch or less in Columbia and along the north coast, and an ice storm coated much of the Midlands.
The storm eclipsed a 2004 event, when 200,000 power outages were reported and many were left without power for a week.
Gov. Nikki Haley's request for a federal emergency declaration was a precautionary measure, said Doug Mayer, a Haley spokesman. The declaration allows the state to ask for federal resources, with 75 percent of the costs covered by the federal government and the state responsible for the remaining 25 percent.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Haley said the state had already spent more than $2 million for the winter storm that hit two weeks ago.
"...the State of South Carolina and its local counties and municipalities have exhausted all other resources in this preparation and require the assistance of the federal government to adequately respond to this emergency situation," Haley wrote.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Haley said the storm was serious and getting worse. "We are seeing snow and ice here in the Midlands and then certainly we're seeing a lot of wind down in the Lowcountry," Haley said. "The wind is really what's causing us a lot of problems because that is leading to the ice build-up."
Hundreds of car wrecks were reported, including one fatality. At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, a woman driving a 2009 Nissan slid into a state-owned vehicle that was legally parked on the shoulder on I-95 in Clarendon County, The State newspaper reported.
"It's so important you stay off the roads," Haley said. "If you get on the roads, your speed has to be slow."
On Tuesday, Haley declared a state of emergency, which activates the National Guard and the state's emergency operation plan. S.C. National Guard Major General Robert Livingston said his units have enough capacity to meet the public's needs should the storm get worse.
"It will get worse as the day goes on," Livingston said early Wednesday.
For Nate Brown of Greenville, a 68-year-old retired teacher, it was the ice - not the snow - that was his main concern. He lost electricity for nearly a week in the earlier storm.
"This has been the worst winter in a long time. It gets hot, then cold. We've had snow. Now they're predicting ice with the snow. It's just been awful," he said.
Mindy Taylor, 43, was at a grocery store, looking for rock salt, kitty litter or anything else that could help melt ice. It took her 15 minutes to drive from her home as the snow was falling.
"I hate driving on this," she said. "Hopefully, it'll warm up by the weekend and it will all melt. I'm ready for spring."
In Myrtle Beach, which attracts millions of visitors every summer, cars were coated with a thick crust of ice, and ice frosted palm trees and idle kiddie rides at the popular Broadway at the Beach tourist attraction.
In Charleston, the towering Ravenel Bridge across the Cooper River was closed because of ice just as it was two weeks ago.
SCE&G brought in contract crews from utilities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky to help its 1,200 workers restore power.
"Winter storms can be unpredictable. It's the combination of ice and wind that can lead to significant damage," said Keller Kissam, president of the company's retail operations.
Schools and government offices were closed in most counties across the state, as were VA outpatient clinics and the Savannah River Site near Aiken. Only essential personnel were told to report to Joint Base Charleston.
Transportation Department workers were working 12-hour shifts to apply salt and other de-icing materials. The agency also moved a number of crews from the Lowcountry to the Upstate to deal with heavy snow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.