Deep freeze brings slippery roads to snow-covered South but warmer weather, rain expected

Saturday, January 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Rain looked likely to dissolve the thick blanket of snow that covered much of the Deep South on Saturday as a fast-moving storm system entered the state from the west.

Areas hardest hit by this week's storm were likely on Sunday to see a repeat of the 40- and 50-degree temperatures that brought some relief Saturday, forecasters said.

``I think that's going to help us as far as dissolving the snow and getting rid of it,'' said Department of Transportation maintenance engineer Jerry Linder, in Raleigh.

There were few major traffic problems Saturday.

Sixteen inches of snow was dumped on parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia this week. The winter blast, which swept through the South from Wednesday to early Friday, knocked out thousands of homes' electrical power and paralyzed a region ill-equipped to deal with such storms. Treacherous conditions were blamed for at least 10 traffic deaths.

In Florida's Panhandle, where temperatures dipped to 19 degrees in the wake of the storm, an infant died in a house fire blamed on a space heater too close to a mattress. Heaters were also blamed for house fires that killed eight people in Louisiana and two in Alabama.

Operations at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, the nation's busiest airport, were still recovering Friday. The general manager of Hartsfield, where hundreds of flights were canceled, said he will meet with airline executives Monday to discuss ways to prevent future snow-related backups.

General Manager Ben DeCosta said he called for the meeting after learning that, during the storm, some planes full of passengers waited as long as 10 hours for de-icing before leaving or returning to the terminal.

``Sitting on a plane five, eight, 10 hours, that is an occurrence that is not tolerable,'' DeCosta said.

AirTran cut down on de-icing delays by moving the equipment closer to the gates. Delta, which handles more than 70 percent of Hartsfield traffic, will discuss its procedures with airport officials, spokesman Tom Donahue said.

Delta on Friday canceled 144 flights across the nation, 29 of them in Atlanta. The airline expects operations at ''100 percent'' through the weekend, Donahue said.

Brad Moretz, the general manager of North Carolina's Appalachian Ski Mtn. said the snow won't add much to the resort's base on the slopes, but he'll take it.

``The natural snowfall is fun and it makes the area beautiful, but natural snowfall is really just window dressing,'' Moretz said. ``Any time people are talking about snow, that's good for our business.''