March storm buries the midwest

March 7, 2008 9:13:58 PM PST
A heavy late-winter snowstorm Friday pummeled residents from Arkansas to the Great Lakes, knocking out electricity for thousands and promising to bring near-blizzard conditions to Ohio and Kentucky. In several Florida communities, tornadoes damaged buildings and left residents without electricity. Two people died.

While the storms dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Arkansas and left about 44,000 homes and businesses without power, people in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky were bracing for a massive snowstorm.

"It could get real nasty," said Dusty Harbage, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jackson, Ky.

Kyle Rose, 34, of Springfield in southwest Ohio, said he was heating up leftover chili for dinner instead of going to the grocery store in the snow. He planned to spend a lot of time shoveling this weekend.

"I guess I try to stay in front of it," Rose said. "I'd rather shovel 4 inches twice than 8 inches once."

An Ohio Highway Patrol spokesman said the agency responded to 610 crashes statewide over 7½ hours Friday. A 20-mile stretch of Interstate 70 in eastern Ohio was closed after a tractor-trailer went off the road.

A woman died in central Ohio's Pickaway County after her sport-utility vehicle ran off an icy, snow-covered roadway into a utility pole, the sheriff's office said.

A variety of weekend events were canceled or postponed in Ohio, including a couple of St. Patrick's Day parades and a student science competition in Akron.

Heavy snow was predicted in Kentucky, as well as layers of ice in eastern sections.

In northeastern Kentucky, the weather service issued a flood warning for the Ohio River at Maysville. The river was 48.4 feet Friday night and expected to rise above the 50-foot flood stage early Saturday afternoon.

In north Florida, two people died after a tornado tore through Lake City. State officials said two other tornadoes touched down in Keaton Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and Capitola, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Tallahassee.

In Lake City, a woman was killed when a tree fell on her mobile home and a man was electrocuted when he tried to connect a generator after a power outage, Columbia County Emergency Management spokesman Harvey Campbell said.

Dan Helton, 36, said the storm picked up his house off its concrete block foundation and dropped it on its side.

"I didn't know what was happening. I knew it must have been a tornado. It was like a big suction," Helton said.

A 5 p.m to 7 a.m curfew was issued for parts of Lake City and tornado watches were in effect through much of central and South Florida through 2 a.m., officials said.

In northern Louisiana, 1 to 4 inches of snow was enough for people to make snowmen. They memorialized them by sending photographs to newspapers and television stations.

Eight-year-old Kamryn "Kami" Chauncy of Benton scrounged up enough for a 2-foot-high snowman with stick arms, a carrot nose and a camellia blossom - from a bush blooming in the yard - on his chest.

"Every 30 minutes she goes out to see if he's still there," said her mother, Jill Chauncy.

In New Jersey, heavy rainfall may cause flooding in parts of the state this weekend. The Delaware River at Trenton was expected to crest Sunday at about half a foot above flood stage.

Associated Press writer Tom Parsons in Little Rock, Ark.; Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky.; John McCarthy and Rose Hanson in Columbus, Ohio; and James Hannah in Dayton, Ohio, Ron Word in Jacksonville, Fla., contributed to this report.