By LEAH WILLINGHAM and JAY REEVES
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Freezing temperatures and falling limbs knocked out water and electrical service to thousands as winter storms dumped additional snow and ice on the Deep South early Thursday, and officials said it could be days before life is back to normal.
Power crews worked to restore service to more than 300,000 homes and businesses that were plunged into darkness across three states and temperatures were expected to warm over the weekend, helping thaw frozen water pipes and pumps.
But in Jackson, the Mississippi capital where at least 19,000 residents were without electricity and most water system customers were dry, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said officials didn’t know when water service would be restored.
“This is one of the unfortunate facts that I have to deliver,” he said. “But I owe you honesty and I owe you truth so we can manage how we prepare.”
Parts of Interstate 20 were at a standstill in Louisiana, state police said, and state wildlife agents used 4-wheel-drive trucks to get essential employees, including some at a veterans’ home, to work. Multiple roads were icebound in Mississippi, where almost 200,000 utility customers were without power at the worst, and the picturesque square in Oxford has been white with snow since late Sunday.
As much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) of fresh snow and ice fell as far east as northwest Alabama, where electrical service has been spotty for days, and Spanish moss coated with ice hung from trees west of New Orleans.
Temperatures were not predicted to rise much above freezing across a wide area Thursday followed by another night of frigid temperatures, forecasters said, so problems could persist.
Entergy Mississippi, one of the largest electrical providers in the state, said 1,400 people were working on repairs and additional crews from Arkansas where headed into the state to assist. But 90,000 customers were out and progress will be slow until roads improve, spokesperson Mara Hartmann said.
“We expect this to be a multi-day event which could very easily stretch into early to mid-next week,” Hartmann said. “We are asking our customers to please be patient as we work to safely restore their service.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the White House had approved a federal disaster declaration because of the icy weather, but further details were not available immediately. More than 48,000 state residents did not have water and more than 956,000 live in areas where residents have been told to boil water before drinking it or using it for cooking.
In Jackson, Jonathan Callahan sought shelter at a community center in Jackson as winter bore down on the city late Wednesday. Homeless after losing his job cleaning trucks during the pandemic, freezing weather has added stress and uncertainty to life for the 40-year-old man.
“I was definitely worried, thinking ‘What am I going to do? Where will I go?’” Callahan said. ”It’s way too cold to be out there now.”
Reggie Wiggins, an outreach worker with the Mississippi Continuum of Care, a coalition of service organizations that help the homeless, has been driving around the city picking up people who need help.
“We have connections in the community, so we know people and where they usually stay, we go out trying to find them, we put out calls, ‘Have you seen this person? Have you seen this person?’”
In northwest Alabama, crews driving heavy machinery most often used for warm-weather road work cleared snow off roads and parking lots. Dozens of roads were covered with snow or icy spots, and scores of school systems in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama canceled classes, opened late or switched from in-person teaching to virtual instruction because of the weather.
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama.
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