Deadly ice storm freezes winter-weary United States

A tree is coated in ice outside a home after a rare winter ice storm swept across the South, on Feb 12, 2014 in Summerville, South Carolina. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A tree is coated in ice outside a home after a rare winter ice storm swept across the South, on Feb 12, 2014 in Summerville, South Carolina. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A deadly ice storm stranded scores of people on slick roads and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of US homes on Wednesday as winter-weary Americans dug in against Mother Nature's latest blow.

More than 3,700 flights due to take off Thursday were canceled across the United States due to the wintry blast, including well over half of flights at the busiest US airport, Atlanta's Hartfield International, airline monitors said.

The National Weather Service began warning days ago that a "mammoth dome" of Arctic air would settle over the eastern United States to form a "paralysing ice storm."

"The ice accumulations remain mind-boggling, if not historical," it said, warning that more than 2.5 centimeters of ice could fall from Georgia to South Carolina.

The massive storm - which stretched from Alabama to Virginia - was also expected to dump as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of snow.

It was set to strengthen as it climbed northward along the eastern seaboard Thursday, with snowfall totals topping 18 inches by the time the storm reached the far northeastern New England region.

Accidents and abandoned cars caused massive traffic jams in North Carolina, with the usually temperate cities of Raleigh and Charlotte transformed into ice- and snow-covered parking lots.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory urged residents to stay indoors - even if it means sleeping at work - rather than risk the roads.

"If you're in a safe warm place, stay in a safe warm place," McCrory told CNN.

"We've already had two fatalities and we don't want to see more."

Two deaths in Georgia were blamed on the storm so far, local media reported. That put the death toll at four, though it was unofficial and still early.

Many Atlanta residents stayed home, after the gridlock caused by a much weaker storm two weeks ago stranded thousands of people. It took days to clear the highway of abandoned vehicles at the time.

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