Deep South, Meet Deep Freeze

Winter weather is sweeping through the Deep South on Tuesday. It's cold and snowing in areas that rarely ever see arctic blasts such as this one. Southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Alabama have all seen snow today.

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The Deep South is in a deep freeze. Snow, sleet and freezing rain have gripped a region more accustomed to sun and surf. As a result, roads are a mess and from South Louisiana to the Carolina coast, classes are cancelled, airplanes are grounded, and businesses and government offices are closed.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Birmingham, Alabama today, just getting around town is practically impossible.

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ELLIOTT: As more snow than expected came down mid-morning, the traffic pileups started. Cars and trucks are skidding and sliding along the slick roads, triggering a tangle of fender benders.

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ELLIOTT: In what is developing into somewhat of a crisis, Central Alabama is now under a civil emergency warning because of the hazardous driving conditions.

Kim Harris got stuck trying to leave downtown when her office closed early.

KIM HARRIS: The thing for me is the traffic. Like, I know everyone wants to get their kids. I know everyone wants to get home. I do too.

ELLIOTT: This is just the kind of problem that Governor Robert Bentley had hoped to avoid.

GOVERNOR ROBERT BENTLEY: The biggest risk is ice accumulation in South Alabama. And for that reason we are urging motorists to limit travel to necessary or emergency travel only.

ELLIOTT: Bentley has asked the Alabama National Guard to help rescue stranded motorists. The state's transportation director, John Cooper, says this storm is a logistical challenge.

JOHN COOPER: This is not a normal event for us. Most of our sanding and salting equipment is located in the northern part of the state. We have been in the process of moving as much of that as we can to the southern parts of the state.

ELLIOTT: Snow and ice are rare, in typically balmy places, like Mobile, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It's also a region with a lot of bridges. Sections of several major interstates are closed. And thousands of flights have been cancelled. Mississippi Emergency Management Director Robert Latham is concerned about ice building on pine trees and knocking out power lines.

ROBERT LATHAM: This is a significant weather event. It's nothing to take lightly especially given the area of the state that's going to be impacted, part of the state that's not used to seeing winter weather.

ELLIOTT: In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu had this warning.

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: It is very dangerous and the dangers are real.

ELLIOTT: He wants residents to stay off the road and be ready for possible power outages.

In Baton Rouge, shelves were cleared out at a Walmart where Connie Reese works in the produce department.

CONNIE REESE: Ooh, yesterday, it was pretty busy up in here. Customers just shopping, you know, basically just water, getting bread and juice and bananas.

ELLIOTT: Forecasters say a thaw won't come until Thursday, so southerners should hunker down for at least another day of ice, snow and bitter cold.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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