By Vicki Smith Associated Press
ELKINS, W.Va. — Wet snow and high winds spinning off the edge of superstorm Sandy spread blizzard conditions over parts of West Virginia and neighboring Appalachian states Tuesday, shutting one interstate as trucks and cars bogged down and knocking out power to many.
The National Weather Service said a foot and more of snow was reported in lower elevations of West Virginia, where most towns and roads are. High elevations in the mountains were getting more than two feet and a blizzard warning for more than a dozen counties was in effect until Wednesday afternoon.
At least 236,000 customers were without power in West Virginia early Tuesday. In Elkins, a city of about 7,000 people, power went out across town before dawn and the only lights were from passing snow plows as heavy, wet flakes piled up to about 8 inches.
Authorities closed nearly 50 miles of Interstate 68 on either side of the West Virginia-Maryland state line because of blizzard conditions and stuck cars. Eastbound lanes in Maryland ere later reopened.
More than 30 other highways and roads were closed in West Virginia by snow, ice, high water, and downed trees and power lines. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Leslie Fitzwater said. Schools were closed in at least 39 counties.
“It’s a mess out there and people should stay home if they can until our first responders can get out there, clear the roads and get to those who need the most assistance,” Fitzwater said.
Officials in West Virginia said a woman was killed Monday in a storm-related traffic accident. A spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said about 5 inches of snow had fallen in the area of Tucker County where the crash occurred, making road conditions treacherous.
On the Maryland side of I-68, crews were trying to remove several tractor-trailers stuck on the highway. Four or five passenger vehicles also were abandoned in the median, State Highway Administration spokeswoman Kelly Boulware said.
The higher elevations in western parts of Maryland received more than a foot of snow since Monday afternoon, and it was still snowing Tuesday before dawn, Boulware said.
Police rescued several stranded motorists on the interstate in West Virginia, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
A significant winter storm continued in northeast Tennessee, where snow was forecast for higher elevations through Wednesday morning.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn reported 22 inches of snow at the highest elevations, with strong winds blowing drifts up to 4 feet deep.
Roads were closed throughout the park and a handful of hikers coming off sections of the Appalachian Trial on Tuesday morning reporting tangles of fallen trees and waist-deep drifts.
“We don’t know exactly how many people are still up there, but we’ve not received any distress calls,” Soehn said. “It’s that heavy, wet snow, so it is difficult to plow.”