Record cold in US South

The South awoke Wednesday to a two-part Arctic mess that caused problems as far south as the Gulf Coast. First came a thin blanket of snow and ice, then came below-zero wind chills and record-breaking low temperatures in New Orleans and other cities.

The snowfall sabotaged morning rush hour before it even began, sending cars crashing into each other on major thoroughfares. Officials urged people to stay off the roads if possible, and to bundle up if they ventured outside.

Thousands of schoolchildren and teachers got the day off because of treacherous travel and cold; cities cancelled meetings and municipal court sessions. Some businesses closed.

With temperature hovering around 10 degrees, store clerk Susan Brown got to work an hour late in the north Alabama city of Decatur. Snow and ice blanketed grassy areas and roadsides, she said, and neighbourhood roads were much whiter than main highways.

"Traffic is moving along, but on side roads and residential streets it's pretty slick," said Brown, who works at Holaway's Food Market. "As long as you stay in the tracks you're pretty good.'

Dairy farmer Will Gilmer bundled up for the pre-dawn drive to the milking barn with the thermometer showing 7 degrees (-14 Celsius) in western Alabama.

"It felt like single digits," he said. "I probably had four layers on and then insulated coveralls and a heavy coat on over that. I made it OK except for my toes."

Icy conditions hampered travel as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, with stretches of Interstate 10 were closed in Louisiana and across Alabama's Mobile Bay. Ice pellets covered the tops of sago palm trees.

In Atlanta, snow covered icy sidewalks. Major thoroughfares usually full at rush hour were eerily quiet. Some cars drove through red lights rather than stop and risk sliding.

David Johnston, a 22-year-old Georgia tech student, is used to winter in the South. "When it snows, the city shuts down," he said.

School was cancelled, but he had to work — he walked 20 minutes on snowy, icy sidewalks to get to the train and head downtown.

Many Atlanta-based offices and employers closed for the day, but Jarquiese Norwood, 28, also had to get to work: at a warehouse where he's a forklift operator. "It snows, like, every couple years," he said of Atlanta, and it's "pretty much the same every year."

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