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Hundreds of thousands without power as massive winter storm hits U.S. South

A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain across a wide swath of the U.S. South on Sunday — causing dangerously icy roads, immobilizing snowfalls and power losses to hundreds of thousands of people.

Governors in several states declare emergencies, urge people to stay off roads

Residents try to keep ahead of the snow with the aid of a snow blower on Church Avenue in Roanoke, Va., as snow continues to fall throughout southwest Virginia on Sunday. (Don Petersen/Associated Press)

A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain across a wide swath of the U.S. South on Sunday — causing dangerously icy roads, immobilizing snowfalls and power losses to hundreds of thousands of people.

Accidents on snow-covered interstates are causing major delays, hundreds of flights have been cancelled and drivers in North Carolina and Virginia are getting stuck in snow or losing control on icy patches. Meanwhile, kids and the young at heart are taking advantage of heavy snow with snowball fights and snowmen.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper strongly urged residents to stay off the roads Sunday, asking drivers not to put lives of first responders needlessly at risk. Cooper said emergency crews, including the National Guard, had worked overnight to clear traffic accidents on major roadways. One tractor-trailer ran off a road and into a river, Cooper said.

"Stay put if you can," Cooper said. "Wrap a few presents, decorate the tree, watch some football."

Governors and local officials in several states declared emergencies ahead of the storm crossing several Southern states, which is hitting portions of North Carolina and Virginia particularly hard.

Officials have warned residents to prepare emergency kits and stay off roads in affected areas. Schools districts in North Carolina and Virginia have announced they'll be closed Monday.

A man shovels a path for the driver of a car stuck and blocking the ramp from I-40 westbound to Cary Towne Blvd. in Cary, N.C., on Sunday. (Scott Sharpe/The News & Observer via AP)

"Virginians should take all necessary precautions to ensure they are prepared for winter weather storm impacts," said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

The National Weather Service said a "prolonged period of snow" began late Saturday and would last until Monday in the region, with the heaviest snow expected in northwest North Carolina and southern Virginia. Forecasters have said some mountain areas of North Carolina could get up to 30 centimetres of snow or more.

Heavy rains also were expected elsewhere in other parts of the South, creating possible floods in coastal areas.

Over 1,000 flights cancelled

More than 300,000 power outages have been reported across the region with the majority of those — about 180,000 — in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us. More than 82,000 were without power in South Carolina, while a total of about 75,000 outages were reported across Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the sixth busiest airport in the country, said American Airlines would reduce its operations starting Saturday evening, with more than 1,000 flights cancelled on Sunday.

The airline has also issued a travel alert for nine airports throughout the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia, meaning passengers may be able to change travel plans without a fee.

Travellers were advised to check their flight status before heading to the airport. Cancellations were reported on flights from as far as the Midwest.

Signs of a pending monster snow fall were prevalent. Traffic crews treated roads ahead of the storm. Amtrak has cancelled or modified some routes because of the storm. And many hardware stores sold out of ice melt.