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Sleet, snow shut down much of the local area

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Joe Richardson was one of the few who took advantage of the weather to toss a snowball after freezing rain, sleet and snow blanketed Brookhaven Tuesday.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Joe Richardson was one of the few who took advantage of the weather to toss a snowball after freezing rain, sleet and snow blanketed Brookhaven Tuesday.

The Arctic blast that dumped a layer of sleet and snow on the Brookhaven area – complicated by plunging sub-freezing temperatures – made a mess of area roads and kept most residents inside for much of the day Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Wastewater Treatment Facility in Brookhaven reported Tuesday’s low at 16, and the temperature at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday still stood at 18 degrees. There was an estimated one and a half to two inches of snow and sleet in the area Tuesday; however, the official gauge was frozen and unable to provide a report.

Weather conditions led to school closures Tuesday and Wednesday for all districts in the local area and in the surrounding region, as the ice and snow swept through a wide swath of the bottom section of the southern U.S.

Despite the icy precipitation and hard freeze, area power company officials had few outages to deal with.

Entergy Customer Service Representative Bill Howard reported one brief power outage due to a vehicle accident Tuesday afternoon.

“We had one power outage at 3:30 p.m. yesterday when a vehicle slid off the road and hit our downtown circuit at the intersection of North Jackson and East Monticello Street,” Howard said Wednesday morning. “Besides this, there weren’t any power outages.”

Richardson is joined by Michael Richardson and Colby Vanier for a walk downtown to see the frozen sights.

Richardson is joined by Michael Richardson and Colby Vanier for a walk downtown to see the frozen sights.

Approximately 870 downtown customers were out of power due to the accident. However, power was restored for a majority of customers by 4 p.m. and all customers by 5 p.m., said Howard.

“We don’t anticipate any problems for the day. Obviously, events outside of our control can happen, and we hope there are no further accidents, but we are doing everything we can to keep the power on,” Howard said.

Magnolia Electric Power Association reported an outage-free night in the Lincoln County area. “We have zero outages as of 6:30 a.m., Lucy Shell, member services director Magnolia Electric Power Association, said Wednesday morning.

Shell noted Magnolia’s business office will be closed due to the weather conditions Wednesday. “But our linemen are on call,” she said, adding that association members can call 601-684-4011 to report an outage.

Entergy customers can call 1-800-9OUTAGE (1-800-968-8243) to report problems with power.

Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell and Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing reported multiple traffic accidents due to the bad road conditions Tuesday, and expected to see the same going into Wednesday.

“There were a lot of accidents. Mainly, they were minor incidents where the driver swerved off the road. There were a lot of vehicles stuck in ditches,” said Bell. “But I am proud of the performance of the police department. We had no accidents of our own despite the conditions.”

Bell urged residents to stay indoors and avoid driving, if at all possible.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest with weather like this to stay indoors. If you don’t have a vital reason to be on the roads, don’t put yourself and others at risk,” Bell said.

Conditions were similar in the county. “We are dealing with numerous accidents,” Rushing said. “That’s the main issue as you might expect with the ice. So far, there have been about seven-to-eight accidents, and that’s pretty much what we will be dealing with all day today,” Rushing said.

Interstate highways in the area also were hazardous due to the snow and ice. Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Interstate 55 southbound had to be closed due to two tractor-trailer trucks jack-knifing at the Copiah/Lincoln county line. At the same time, northbound I-55 was limited to one lane in the same area due to a third big rig crash, Warren Strain, Mississippi Department of Public Safety public affairs director, reported.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop M responded to a total of nine accidents Tuesday, all on Interstate 55.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation reported at 9:36 a.m. Wednesday that the bridge to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Copiah County was closed due to the weather.

Statewide, the icy precipitation and deep freeze are 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.

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.

“We’re looking at sunny conditions,” said meteorologist Joanne Culin with the National Weather Service in Jackson. “We’re not going to warm up a huge amount – we’ll see a high around 35 degrees.

“But we should see with the sun, some of it melting.”

Across south Mississippi, many schools and government offices closed Tuesday and some remained closed Wednesday. Gov. Phil Bryant said state offices would reopen at noon Wednesday. Members of the state’s House and Senate who had arrived before the onset of bad weather left the Capitol early Tuesday and were expected to return late Wednesday.

In Hattiesburg, David Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, decided to brave the sleet and snow Tuesday afternoon by strolling around the Thames Elementary School walking track.

“I was feeling a little cabin fever, so I thought we would get out and check out this weird weather,” said David Smith, a computer programmer who was off work.

Elizabeth Smith, a University of Southern Mississippi doctoral student in mass communications, said she’s used to heavier snows back home in Colorado.

“It makes me laugh that they (USM) canceled school because of it, although it’s really slippery, so it’s a good thing that they did,” she said. “They made a good choice.”

In Biloxi, the Boomtown Casino closed Tuesday – the only one of the 12 to do so. The casino intended to reopen Wednesday.

The casino’s marketing director said she knows they’re the only gambling facility to close for the cold weather, but she said they wanted to put safety first for their mostly local customers and employees.

“We’re a different kind of model of casino anyway. You know we don’t have the spa and hotel, we really rely on employees and we have great employees. Great customers and we’re kind of comfortable local place,” said Boomtown Marketing Director Sunita Sailor.

The above report was complied by The Daily Leader’s Rachel Eide and Justin Vicory, along with Associated Press reporters.