Deaths, wrecks, closings blamed on storm in Miss.

Published 9:10 am Wednesday, January 29, 2014

JACKSON (AP) — The Arctic blast that sent subfreezing temperatures, snow and sleet across Mississippi is being blamed for four deaths from a fire as well as hundreds of wrecks and road closures.

The National Weather Service issued a hard freeze warning for areas of central and south Mississippi until midmorning Thursday. Highs were expected to rise into the 30s in those areas but fall into the teens Wednesday night. North Mississippi will see highs in the upper 30s and lows in the teens. Highs will be in the 50s across the state Thursday.

No additional accumulation of freezing rain, sleet or snow is expected Wednesday, forecasters said.

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The Mississippi Highway Patrol warned motorists to stay off the roads and highways until at least noon Wednesday.

The four victims in the early Tuesday mobile home fire, blamed on a faulty gas space heater in the living room, ranged from 3 months to 30 years old. Itawamba County official said the bodies of Shelby Cason, 17; Anna Clair Chilcoat, 2; and Kaden Angle, 3 months, were found in the gutted trailer. Susan G. Chilcoat, 35, died later at a local hospital. Two people were hospitalized in Memphis, Tenn., while three others were treated and released.

Highway Patrol spokesman Warren Strain said icy conditions remain extremely hazardous in the southern half of the state. Strain said up to midnight Wednesday, the Highway Patrol had 358 reports of accidents in the southern half of the state.

The worst areas cited by the patrol were:

• U.S. Highway 49 in Magee is completely shut down, both northbound and southbound lanes.

• In the Meridian area, driving conditions are dangerous, with the I-20/I-59 split impassible. I-59 southbound is impassible and westbound I-20 from the 20/59 split is impassible.

• In the Hattiesburg area, icy conditions exists throughout the area and many roads and highways are impassible.

• Tractor-trailer traffic is asked to avoid traveling south on I-55, south of Jackson. The big rigs cannot negotiate hills and will stranded.

• Driving conditions are still treacherous in many areas south of I-20.

In Louisiana, an arctic front kept the state iced in Wednesday, with daybreak temperatures at or below freezing.

Ice closed more than 20 highways statewide — including every interstate through Baton Rouge, where yards were frosted and streets mostly empty. State police logged dozens of weather-related crashes overnight, but said there were fewer than during the storm last week.

Overall, there were relatively few wrecks and power failures. Power companies said fewer than 600 customers were without electricity at 8:30 a.m., down from 2,200 about 90 minutes earlier.

At least 48 school systems remained closed Wednesday, down from 55 Tuesday.

With schools, state offices and businesses closed across Louisiana, state police said people generally seemed to follow advice to stay off the road.

Roads were worse but traffic much sparser and wrecks far fewer than last Friday, when two people died on icy roads, Sgt. Nicholas Manale said Tuesday.

Troopers logged 35 weather-related crashes overnight in central Louisiana, 19 in the Baton Rouge area and 15 in parishes above Lake Pontchartrain. In southwest Louisiana, weather had contributed to 10 wrecks since early Tuesday, compared to 71 last week, Trooper James Anderson said Wednesday.