CANDLER, N.C. (AP) — While road crews and law enforcement officers struggled to clear snow-clogged highways in western North Carolina Wednesday, trucker Rob Eldredge was dealing with his own private traffic jam.
Eldredge, whose car carrier was packed full of new pickup trucks, found himself stranded in a motel parking lot by a surprise winter storm that dumped more than 3 feet of snow in some areas.
``I've been sitting out there with a load of pickups since 10:20 yesterday morning,'' a frustrated Eldredge said Wednesday. ``I need to get some fuel and get back on the road.''
Eldredge managed to get his rig turned around and continued his trip.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of residents and other motorists slowly crawled out from underneath a wintry blanket that provided more woe than warmth.
Waynesville resident Michael Dykes, his wife Marie, and their 3-year-old son, Tanner, packed up and went home after spending the night with about 30 other people at the Haywood County National Guard Armory.
The family decided to leave their home Tuesday afternoon when the power went out and snow continued to pile up.
``We put every blanket we had on us and we were still cold,'' Mrs. Dykes said. ``Having a young son, we decided this was the place to come.''
The Dykes planned to ride home in a Humvee, with a stop along the way to pick up a kerosene heater.
David Hall, a local Red Cross official, said most of the people staying at the Haywood armory were motorists brought in by the National Guard after being stranded on Interstate 40. Those shelters began to empty as snow began to melt and traffic started moving again.
``Everybody was very happy to be out of their car and off of the road,'' he said.
More than a dozen shelters were set up for stranded motorists, according to state emergency management officials.
One person who couldn't get to an official shelter got lucky.
Jim Stratton of Maggie Valley retrieved his pickup truck Wednesday afternoon, more than a day after he parked it on the shoulder of U.S. 74 and walked to a friend's house. Jackknifed tractor-trailers had caused a massive traffic jam, making the road impassable, he said.
``I didn't want to get stuck out on 40, and I have some friends who live right around the corner so I decided to walk down and stay with them,'' he said as he dug out his truck, covered in a foot of snow by passing snowplows.
Richard Moore, secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, said some stranded motorists had to remain in their cars overnight because there was no way to get them out.
Westbound lanes of I-40 were closed for 44 miles to the Tennessee border Tuesday after the snow and numerous wrecks made the road impassable. Daylight revealed an interstate turned parking lot. Tractor-trailers were lined bumper-to-bumper with all types of cars. Some vehicles not in the line appeared to have lost control and slipped off the roadway.
As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, traffic was moving in both directions of I-40, said Highway Patrol Sgt. David McMurray. Department of Transportation personnel hauled 450 pieces of equipment into the storm zone to help clear roads, remove fallen trees and spread salt to help with melting. Officials urged caution as melting snow was expected to freeze overnight and create treacherous driving conditions.
McMurray said Interstate 26, which was jammed with wrecks from Buncombe County to the South Carolina state line Tuesday, was icy but passable Wednesday.
The storm left more than 100,000 homes and businesses without power.
State officials said Wednesday that 77,000 utility customers were still without electricity.
Snow began falling in western North Carolina before dawn Tuesday as temperatures dropped just below freezing.
Accumulations of up to 3 feet were reported in Avery County, with up to 40 inches reported at Beech Mountain in neighboring Watauga County.
Elsewhere, accumulations ranged from a couple of inches in Bryson City to 2 feet of snow reported in several counties, including Graham, Jackson, Macon, Mitchell and Yancey.
As snow fell in the west, heavy rains pelted the central and eastern sections of the state.
Flooding in low-lying areas was reported in Hyde, Lenoir, Robeson, Dare, Beaufort, Craven and Greene counties, state officials. Flood warnings were posted for sections of the Neuse, Tar, Haw, Lumber, Cape Fear, Rocky and Yadkin rivers.
Along the coast, a gale warning remained in effect through Wednesday night, but the National Weather Service canceled a coastal flood warning.
Forecasters said heavy surf conditions were expected Wednesday, with beach erosion and minor ocean overwash possible along the Outer Banks.
Strong northwest winds of 35 to 40 knots were expected to lessen the impact of 12-foot waves but produce some shallow soundside flooding, mainly south of Cape Hatteras.
Ferry service from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter and Cedar Island will not operate until the storm passes, emergency management officials said.