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Storm Kills 154 While Rescuers Struggle With Dramatic Aftermath

By Edith Stanley and Mike Clary
Los Angeles Times

ATLANTA

The death toll from the "Blizzard of `93" rose to at least 154 Monday as rescuers from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian maritimes struggled with the aftermath of a storm of snow and ice that has been described as the worst this century.

Several dramas continued that threatened to push the number of fatalities even higher.

In the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, rescuers searched for dozens of students, teachers and parents from the Detroit area, members of a group of 117 taking part in a wilderness survival course. Late Monday, 93 had been accounted for.

In the frigid waters off Nova Scotia, 32 crew members were missing after a 530-foot freighter sank in 60 foot seas early Monday.

And in Florida, rescuers continued to comb coastal waters for 16 missing mariners.

Clean-up efforts along the tornado-lashed Gulf Coast continued, while south of Miami the National Guard was ordered to help rebuild a tent city that had been ripped up by high winds early Saturday. More than 100 people evacuated from the tents were among thouands of South Floridians who had lost their homes in Hurricane Andrew last August.

Most major U.S. airports returned to normal operations, and in much of the Northeast, accustomed to winter blasts, the emergency appeared to be over. Many schools in Virgina and the District of Columbia remained closed, and hundreds of government workers accepted an invitation to take the day off as part of their annual leave.

In New York, 1,700 snow plows were at work, and the city put out the call for 1,000 laborers to shovel snow from fire hydrants and bus stops at $8 an hour. Schools in New York City remained open as usual.

It was in the Deep South, unaccustomed to major snow storms at any time of year, especially a week before the official start of spring, where winter woes caused the deepest trouble.

Although the sun was out and temperatures climbed into the 40s Monday afternoon, major interstate highways remained impassable, in part because of ice and slush, and in part because of accidents, abandoned vehicles, and the volume of traffic.

An 80-mile backup on Interstate 75 from north of Atlanta to the Tennessee line was just one of many problems plaguing major arteries through the south. Many north-bound motorists turned back to Atlanta when the going got rough. But turning back was not always possible. Six emergency shelters were opened Monday to take in stranded travelers, many of whom have been stuck for three nights in the Calhoun area 70 miles north of Atlanta.

Although Interstate 65, the north-south route through Alabama was open with one lane in each direction, jack-knifed trucks continued to cause huge delays, according to Scott Adcock, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Dept.

"It's a false sense of security for people right now because several miles may be clear, and then they're running about 65 miles per hour and run up on a patch of ice, even black ice," he said. "It's still a real problem."

Birmingham, Ala., which has no snow plows, recorded 13 inches of snow over the weekend, and the overnight low Monday fell to 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Chattanooga was pelted with two feet of snow.

Hundreds of thousands of customers still had no electricity, most of them in the South. Some utility crews dispatched from other regions to aid local power companies were caught in the massive traffic tieups. During the height of the storm Saturday, more than 3 million homes were blacked out in the eastern states.

In the mountains of Georgia, the National Guard was airdropping food and other supplies to people stranded in rural areas. Almost all public schools, and several colleges, were closed from Atlanta northward.

In Calhoun, Ga., at least 24 industrial buildings, many housing carpet manufacuturers, collapsed under the weight of the wet snow. Several chicken houses were also reported crushed.

"We will have some hard nights, tonight and tomorrow night," said Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, "We're not out of the woods yet."

Even though the massive low pressure cell at the heart of the storm had disappeared Monday into the North Atlantic, forecasters said many areas already hard-hit could receive even more bad weather. As high pressure began to dominate the Eastern Seaboard, warm southeast winds blowing in off the backside of the high fed moisture into the mix that promised sleet and slush.

In north Georgia, the prediction was for light sleet and even more snow Monday night.

Calmer seas, running at 6 feet compared to 30 feet or more at the height of the storm, aided the search for 16 people still missing along Florida's coast. All along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts, 235 people and two dogs had been rescued, the Coast Guard said.

Although Florida's bumper citrus crop was apparently spared serious frost damage, everything from tomatoes to tobacco and peaches in other parts of the south did suffer. "At this point I don't want to hit a panic button, but we know there's been damage," said Tommy Irvin, Georgia agriculture commissioner.

he insurance industry has estimated that the storm caused upwards of $800 million in insured damages, which is more than the $650 million in damages caused by the Nor'easter than pounded the East Coast in December, but considerably under the $16 billion in losses caused by Hurricane Andrew last August.