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Winter storm strands travelers

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Traffic on Interstate 95 in Wilson and Nash counties picked up again early Monday after stretches of ice from the winter storm prompted hundreds of motorists to spend the night in hotel lobbies and a shelter.
More than a half-foot of snow fell in portions of eastern North Carolina on Sunday, contributing to hundreds of accidents — two of them fatal — on roads across the region, authorities said.
Icy spots on northbound Interstate 95 at mile-marker 138 in Nash County and mile-marker 116 on southbound I-95 in Wilson County had traffic slowed to a crawl Sunday night. The southbound traffic in Wilson County had been backed up to the Virginia line, she said.
Several nonfatal accidents were reported and a shelter that could accommodate 1,500 people was being set up at a Rocky Mount convention center, said Patty McQuillan, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.
“All the motels in the Rocky Mount area are full,” she said. Some hotels opened their lobbies to the motorists.
Cars and trucks traveled at a good clip on I-95 Monday morning after Department of Transportation crews worked to clear the roads overnight. Portions of I-95 in Nash County remained partially covered early Monday, according to the Transportation Department’s traveler Web site.
McQuillan said state troopers working in Wake and 13 surrounding counties responded Sunday to more than 600 calls. On a typical Sunday they get about 50 calls, she said.
The patrol said the winter weather contributed to an accident that occurred when a motorist lost control of his speeding car on an icy N.C. Highway 97 in Wake County shortly after 4 a.m. The victim, identified as Bruno Ramirez, 47, of Zebulon, was thrown from the vehicle, patrol spokeswoman Patty McQuillan said.
Troopers were still investigating a Nash County accident that occurred about 4:15 a.m. Sunday that left one person dead, but the victim’s name had not been released early Monday.
Lighter accumulations of snow and sleet fell in Fayetteville and the Sandhills, while Wake County received about an inch Sunday morning before the storm moved to the north and east, dumping several more inches in northeastern counties.
Portions of Bertie County reported more than 9 inches of snow and Northampton 8 inches, the weather office said.
About 2,100 customers were without electricity Monday morning in Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, and Scotland counties, down from a peak of 14,000 outages, the state’s electric cooperatives said. A spokesman said power should be restored by Monday afternoon.
Progress Energy customers without power in Robeson and Scotland counties were back online by 6 a.m., spokeswoman Julie Hans said.
The weather arrived as people travel through the state on their way home from Christmas holidays. An estimated 1.5 million people were expected to travel in the state this week.
Bernard Ross, of Jacksonville, Fla., spent the weekend celebrating the holidays in Charlottesville, Va., with his family.
Sunday afternoon, he picked ice chunks out of his windshield wipers at the Fayetteville rest stop on I-95. Earlier Sunday, Ross said, he had traveled 50 miles in three hours.
“I’m just trying to get back to Florida,” he said. “If the weather will let me.”
Several inches of snow fell Dec. 19-20 in portions of eastern North Carolina, surprising local residents who often can go an entire winter season without snow.
Freezing temperatures meeting moisture-laden air from a low pressure system coming along the coast produced Sunday’s snow and sleet.
The snowfall also hindered after-Christmas shopping as the first flakes fell just a few hours before stores opened with post-holiday specials.
On the Net: N.C. road conditions: http://www.ncsmartlink.org

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