ATLANTA -- The mad rush began at the first sight of snow: Across the Atlanta area, schools let out early, and commuters left for home after lunch, instantly creating gridlock so severe that security guards and doormen took to the streets to direct cars amid a cacophony of blaring horns.
Georgia State University student Alex Tracy looked on with amusement. "My family is from up north, and we're used to driving in the snow and stuff, and seeing everyone freak out, sliding and stuff, it's pretty funny," he said.
Mary McEneaney was not as amused with her commute from a fundraising job at Georgia Tech in Midtown Atlanta to her home about 5 miles away -- normally, a 20- to 40-minute drive, depending on traffic. On Tuesday, it took her 40 minutes to move just three blocks. She made it home three hours later. "I had to stop and go to the bathroom at the hotel," she said. "At that rate, I knew I wasn't going to make it until I got home."
A winter storm that would probably be no big deal in the North on Tuesday all but paralyzed the Deep South, bringing snow, ice and teeth-chattering cold, with temperatures in the teens in some places.
Many folks across the region don't know how to drive in snow, and many cities don't have big fleets of salt trucks or snowplows, and it showed. Hundreds of wrecks happened from Georgia to Texas. Two people died in an accident in Alabama.
"As I drove, I prayed the whole way," said Jane Young, 80, a pastor's wife traveling in Austin, Texas, before dawn on her way to volunteer at a polling station when sleet began falling. "I said: 'Lord, put your hands on mine and guide me. This is your car now.' "
As many as 50 million people across the region could be affected by the time the snow stops today. As much as 4 inches of snow fell in central Louisiana, and about 3 inches was forecast for parts of Georgia. As much as 10 inches was expected in the Greenville, N.C., area and along the state's Outer Banks.
On Alabama's Gulf Shores beaches, icicles hung from palm trees. Hundreds of students in the state's northeast faced spending the night in gyms or classrooms because the roads were too icy.
In Tennessee's Sevier County, some buses turned around as road conditions worsened and took the children back to school. For children whose parents were unable to pick them up, the district was using four-wheel-drive vehicles from various agencies to get the students home, said Sevier County assistant superintendent Debra Cline. All the affected children had made it home by Tuesday afternoon, according to news media reports.
The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi declared states of emergency.
Four people were killed in a Mississippi mobile home fire blamed on a space heater.
New Orleans' merry Bourbon Street in the French Quarter was oddly quiet, as brass bands and other street performers stayed indoors.
Lee and Virginia Holt of Wayne, Pa., walked into Cafe du Monde -- a New Orleans landmark known for its beignets and cafe au lait -- after finding the National World War II Museum closed because of the weather. "We understand they don't have the equipment to prepare the roads," she said. Her husband added: "Nor the experience."