Ice storm encases parts of the South

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Ice hangs from foliage on a residential street on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Atlanta. Across the South, winter-weary residents woke up Wednesday to a region encased in ice, snow and freezing rain, with forecasters warning that the worst of the potentially “catastrophic” storm is yet to come. From Texas to the Carolinas and the South’s business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick with ice, tens of thousands were without power, and a wintry mix fell in many areas. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Ice hangs from foliage on a residential street on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Atlanta. Across the South, winter-weary residents woke up Wednesday to a region encased in ice, snow and freezing rain, with forecasters warning that the worst of the potentially “catastrophic” storm is yet to come. From Texas to the Carolinas and the South’s business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick with ice, tens of thousands were without power, and a wintry mix fell in many areas. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Ice and snow cover Interstate 26, early Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley again declared a state of emergency as emergency officials worried that as much as an inch of ice accumulating on trees and power lines Wednesday into Thursday could knock out powers to thousands, especially in the Midlands. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Shmetrice Moore, a nurse at an Emory hospital, scrapes snow and ice off her windshield as she and others are released early from their shift before a winter storm on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Johns Creek, Ga. From Texas to the Carolinas and the South’s business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick with ice, tens of thousands were without power, and a wintry mix fell in many areas. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Rosemary Bennett walks home Tuesday evening February 11, 2014 after a visit to a local store in Greenville MS. Bennett says she was enjoying the rare snow and planned on making a snow angle once she arrived home. (AP Photo/The Delta Democrat-Times, Bill Johnson)

Motorists drive on a road covered in snow and ice on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Johns Creek, Ga. Across the South, winter-weary residents woke up Wednesday to a region encased in ice, snow and freezing rain, with forecasters warning that the worst of the potentially “catastrophic” storm is yet to come. From Texas to the Carolinas and the South’s business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick with ice, tens of thousands were without power, and a wintry mix fell in many areas. (AP Photo/John Amis)

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ATLANTA (AP) — An ice storm gripped the winter-weary South on Wednesday, knocking out power to a wide swath of the region as the outages nearly doubled by the hour, and forecasters warned the worst of the potentially “catastrophic” storm was yet to come.

From Texas to the Carolinas and the South’s business hub in Atlanta, roads were slick, businesses and schools were closed and people hunkered down for the storm. Just hours into it, sleet, snow and freezing rain had encased tree limbs, sending them crashing on to power lines. More than 100,000 homes and businesses were without power and the number steadily increased. Forecasters warned relief with warmer temperatures wasn’t expected until Thursday.

Officials and forecasters in several states used unusually dire language in warnings, and they agreed that the biggest concern was ice, which could knock out power for days. Winds, with gusts up to 30 mph in parts of Georgia, exacerbated problems.

In Atlanta, where a storm took the metro region by surprise and stranded thousands in vehicles just two weeks ago, tens of thousands of customers were reported without power. City roads and interstates were largely desolate, showing few vehicle tracks as most people heeded warnings to stay home.

The few that ventured out walked to the pharmacy, rode the train or walked their dogs.

“Even in the snow, you still have to do your business,” said Matt Altmix, who took out his Great Dane, Stella. “After the first snow, we kind of got our snow excitement out of the way. But now it’s more the drudgery of pushing on.”

Stinging drops of sleet fell, punctuated by strong wind gusts, and a layer of ice crusted car windshields. Slushy sidewalks made even short walking trips treacherous. One emergency crew had to pull over to wait out the falling snow before slowly making its way back to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s special operations center.

The combination of sleet, snow and freezing rain was expected to coat power lines and tree branches with more than an inch of ice between Atlanta and Augusta.

In normally busy downtown areas, almost every business was closed, except for a CVS pharmacy.

Amy Cuzzort, who spent six hours in her car during the traffic standstill of January’s storm, said she’d spend this one at home, “doing chores, watching movies — creepy movies, ‘The Shining,’” referring to the film about a writer who goes mad while trapped in a hotel during a snowstorm.

In Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Georgia State University student Matt Stanhope, 23, ventured outside to go to a pharmacy but then planned to stay home.

“Everything is just on pause,” he said, gazing at vacant streets.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed implored people Tuesday night to get somewhere safe and stay there.

“The bottom line is that all of the information that we have right now suggests that we are facing an icing event that is very unusual for the metropolitan region and the state of Georgia,” Reed said.

In an early Wednesday warning, the National Weather Service called the storm “an event of historical proportions.”

It continued: “Catastrophic … crippling … paralyzing … choose your adjective.”

The forecast drew comparisons to an ice storm in the Atlanta area in 2000 that left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power and an epic storm in 1973 that caused an

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