Snow, ice and a record-breaking blast of cold closed runways, highways, schools and government offices across the South and sent cars sliding off roads Wednesday in a corner of the country ill-equipped to deal with wintry weather.
At least 10 people died, including a baby in a car that plunged off a slippery overpass into a Louisiana canal. Icicles hung from a statue of jazz musicians in normally balmy New Orleans, and drivers unaccustomed to ice spun their wheels across Atlanta, which was brought to a near-standstill by little more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow. The beach in Biloxi, Mississippi, got a light coating. And the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled classes as the storm unloaded at least 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow in Durham and Greensboro.
Even the best drivers had trouble: Retired NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted that he had just used his winch to help pull a car out of a ditch when he drove off the road and into a tree in North Carolina.
“NC stay off the roads today/tonight. 5 minutes after helping these folks I center punched a pine tree,” he reported.
A spokesman said Earnhardt was not hurt and his pickup had only minor damage. The frigid air that brought snow and ice to the South has ushered in record-breaking low temperatures for New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as other cities in the South. At least four people died in Louisiana, including a man knocked off an elevated portion of Interstate 10 in New Orleans when a pickup spun out on ice, and an 8-month-old baby in a car that slid into a canal in suburban New Orleans. The baby’s mother was in critical condition. Two others died along an icy stretch of I-75 southeast of Atlanta when a driver lost control and hit them, one of them inside a stopped car and the other standing beside it, authorities said.