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Wintry blast kills nine, grounds flights, cuts power across South

Temperatures plummeted late Monday, turning slushy streets into sheets of ice across Southern states that are more accustomed to sunshine than snow.

The wintry blast has killed at least nine people in weather-related traffic accidents, grounded flights, cut power to thousands of homes and even forced Auburn University in Alabama to cancel viewing parties for Monday night's national championship bowl game in Arizona.

Snow ranging from several inches to more than a foot blanketed states from Louisiana to the Carolinas -- a region where many cities have only a handful of snowplows, if any. In many areas, the snow began turning to freezing rain, making roads even more treacherous.

"If you're off the main roads, it's a skating rink," said Tim Loucks, manager of the Pilot Truck Stop in Haughton, La.

The storm shut down most cities and towns, closed many businesses and canceled almost every flight at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world's busiest.

Worried shoppers left grocery store shelves bare, and families without electricity huddled in dark, chilly homes. Predicted overnight lows in the 20s raised the threat of more power failures as snow and freezing rain accumulated on tree branches and power lines.

"The problem here is that they're not used to it, so the equipment and the sanitation removal and the snow removal is not really geared for this kind of situation," said Tino Grana, 48, of New York City, who traveled to Atlanta to sell art at a downtown trade show.

Atlanta, which got 4 to 7 inches, has just eight snowplows. The city hired a fleet of 11 privately run trucks to help spread salt and gravel.

The heaviest snow fell in parts of Tennessee that received as much as 13 inches.

The storm began rolling across the South on Sunday, coating bridges and roads with snow, sleet and freezing rain. The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee declared emergencies. Schools and colleges called off classes.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled around the South, affecting passengers as far away as Scandinavia. Atlanta's airport was nearly deserted on what would normally be a busy Monday morning.

Larry and Judy Keefauver, of Buffalo, thought their flight from Sacramento had landed somewhere else when they looked out the window. "I have been flying (through Atlanta) since the early '70s, and I've never landed on snow here ever," said Larry Keefauver, 62.

In Oxford, Miss., where the historic town square got 8 inches of snow, city workers used backhoes to clean up because they had no snowplows.

"They aren't as good as plows, but they do a pretty good job," Mayor Pat Patterson said.

Icy roads were blamed in separate accidents that killed two people in Louisiana, two in Oklahoma and one each in Kansas and Alabama. Three more drivers were killed in Arkansas when they veered off the pavement. Troopers reported nearly 2,000 wrecks across South Carolina.

The storm system was expected to spread north to Ohio and could hit the snow-weary Northeast later in the week. A Christmas blizzard dumped more than 2 feet of snow on New York City and other parts of the region.

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