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Winter storm blows up East Coast

Icy conditions slowed traffic to a crawl on Interstate 95 near Petersburg, Virginia.  

(CNN) -- The first major storm of 2002 turned up the East Coast late Thursday, dumping snow on North Carolina and Virginia after wreaking havoc in the lower South.

The National Weather Service posted a winter storm warning in parts of both states, forecasting more than a foot of snow in eastern Virginia and lesser amounts in points south.

A winter weather advisory also remained in effect Thursday in much of South Carolina, where Gov. Jim Hodges ordered all state offices closed on Friday -- one day after he declared a state of emergency.

The storm also left thousands without power in the South, including around 11,500 customers in North Carolina according to the state's emergency management division.

For a second straight day, airports from Atlanta to Virginia endured a rash of weather-related delays.

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was particularly hard hit Thursday evening. The storm caused some arriving flights to come in as much as 2 hours and 45 minutes late, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

With just two of three runways open, the airport was operating at about 75 percent of capacity Thursday, an airport spokesman said.

About 4,000 passengers were stranded overnight Wednesday at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, and many were stuck on planes for hours before they returned to the gate. Travelers slowly escaped the airport as the precipitation stopped by midday Thursday.

"Being from Montreal, to me this snow, the accumulation we have doesn't warrant this," a frustrated passenger at Hartsfield said. "This is crazy."

Snow disrupted travel in many states in the southern United States, but for some the snowfall was a welcome surprise. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports (January 3)

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Much of the Southeast spent Thursday digging out from the snow that fell as far south as Florida and coping with conditions rarely experienced in the region.

The winter storm delighted children but snarled traffic throughout the region, prompting some states and municipalities to tell workers to stay home.

"We don't have the snow removal equipment that Buffalo or Milwaukee has," said Tom Ditt, information officer with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

Major backups were reported on interstates in Georgia, particularly I-20, and traffic was moving slowly on highways in North Carolina and South Carolina.

"We're urging people to stay off the roads if they don't have to go," Ditt said Thursday. "We've got a lot of stranded cars. It makes for delays in clearing the roads."

Several weather-related traffic fatalities were reported, including three in Mississippi, two in South Carolina and one in Georgia.

The storm system left below-freezing temperatures in its wake, and the weather service warned that any remaining snowfall could create slippery driving conditions.

A hard freeze warning was issued for Thursday night in northeast Louisiana and much of Mississippi, where as much as 2 inches of snow fell Wednesday. South Carolina and Georgia issued similar advisories.

With the snow subsiding in many states, government crews worked through the night to prevent icing by salting and sanding roads.

"My big concern is keeping people off the highways today, so that we have no further accidents," said Hodges, noting there were about 1,400 accidents Wednesday and Thursday.

"The key for us is just to keep people in until the weather warms up some tomorrow."

-- CNN correspondents Brian Cabell and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.


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