|Thousands powerless as winter storm slams Plains, South|
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE Southeastern states were bracing Friday as snow began to fall from a storm that has already toppled Midwestern power lines, closed major highways, buried parts of the southern Plains in heavy ice and snow and left tens of thousands of people in the dark.
Snow and sleet began falling Friday in Tennessee, and forecasters said some parts of the Southeast could see up to a foot of accumulation.
The heaviest snow was expected in Arkansas near the Missouri state line, northern Tennessee near the Kentucky and Virginia borders and western North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.
Mark Rose, a forecaster with the weather service's Nashville office, called it "a major winter storm for this part of the country — heck, for any part of it."
The storm left 13 inches of snow in the northern Texas Panhandle, where nearly all of Interstate 40 from the Texas-Oklahoma line to New Mexico was closed.
Heavy ice brought down electrical lines and trees limbs, leaving nearly 142,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma without power Friday, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
"In some places, as far you can see there are hundreds of utility poles on the ground," said Andrea Chancellor, spokeswoman for Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. She said it could be five days before electricity is restored to all customers.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen declared a state of emergency and state workers were sent home around lunch in anticipation of the worsening weather. Many businesses followed suit.
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States of emergency were also declared in Arkansas and parts of Virginia and schools closed early in northern Alabama.
The Nashville area saw up to 3 inches of snow by midday, and I-40 traffic crawled by Nashville International Airport for miles because of an accident.
General contractor Tom Baldwin, 59, said he cut loose his crew at a downtown Nashville building at noon to give them time to get home safely.
"I want to tell people to have some common sense out there," he said. "Only because you have big four-wheel-drive doesn't make you stop any quicker."
The steady snowfall didn't keep Jason Martin from delivering beer to Lonnie's Western Room in Nashville's Printer's Alley.
"When it snows, everyone goes out and buys milk and eggs — and beer," joked Martin, 37. "We're like the Pony Express."
Jeff Hooker, who manages a Piggly Wiggly supermarket in the Memphis area, said customers were waiting outside to buy groceries when the store opened at 7 a.m.
"People here in Memphis, if there's just a little flight of bad weather they think they're going to get snowed in for a week," he said.
Cheryl Beck said she left her home in Jackson, Tenn., the night before the storm to make sure she could get her 9-year-old daughter Lauren to Nashville for a weekend gymnastics competition.
"Once you pay the deposit, you're not getting it back even for bad weather" said Beck, 42, a school secretary.
The Texas Department of Transportation closed I-40 east and west of Amarillo on Friday and a few other major roadways. Downed power lines and icy, dangerous road conditions also temporarily closed a 50-mile stretch of I-44 southwest of Oklahoma City and parts of I-40 in far western Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico on Thursday.
Flights were canceled Friday morning at airports in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, and Memphis.
Arkansas State Police warned people who were driving to work on Friday to be prepared to be stranded. Spokesman Bill Sadler encouraged motorists to bring blankets, water and snacks with them and to line up a hotel room within walking distance or make other plans for an overnight stay.
Contributing: Associated Press writers Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Travis Loller and Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville contributed to this report.