Raleigh, N.C. — The state Highway Patrol responded to more than 1,800 wrecks, most of them minor, on Saturday after wintry precipitation left a slick layer of sleet and snow on highways across the state. Cars were sliding off the road, into guardrails and each other, troopers said. No serious injuries were reported.
"We got some snowfall, then sleet on top of that and then traffic on top of all that," DOT engineer Jason Holmes said. "We do have a combination of precipitations packed down on the roadways ... It is very difficult to get that to break loose from the pavement at times."
Maria Asido was on her way home from work at UNC Hospital when she lost control of her car on Interstate 540.
“I skidded and it went all the way to that slope and I tried to go back but I couldn't, so I hit this guardrail here,” she said.
Tow truck driver Jim McCormick said Asido’s story was a common one. “People are being careless and not slowing down and that’s the main reason we're out here,” he said.
“They're underestimating the weather,” Trooper Derek Delcastilho said. “It's really dangerous out here and a lot of people are traveling a little bit faster than they need to be traveling right now.”
Asido said she was only going about 20 mph.
To help monitor road and weather conditions, the state Emergency Operations Center was activated early Saturday. The center staffs several agencies, including the Highway Patrol, DOT and the North Carolina National Guard, so they are ready to respond quickly to weather-related problems.
The Wake County Emergency Operations Center was activated Friday evening in preparation for the winter storm. People with non-emergency weather-related questions can call 919-856-7044. For emergencies, people should continue to call 911.
The state Department of Transportation urged motorists to stay off the roads so that workers can continue to clear the snow, sleet and ice that fell over 24 hours across the state.
"Due to the amount of precipitation that we did receive, it started to accumulate on the roads and the condition of them diminished greatly," Holmes said.
Some crews worked for 24 hours straight before getting a break Saturday afternoon.
Despite their efforts, most secondary roads in the state had not been plowed. Crews were focusing on major routes first and were not expected to turn their attention to secondary roads until sometime on Sunday, the DOT said.
"It is going to be very difficult for us to make roads safe and passable,” DOT engineer Steve Halsey said.
"The DOT is doing a good job on the major highways," Johnston County Emergency Management Coordinator Derrick Duggins said.
"It could be several days before we get the interstates cleared up and go onto our secondary routes," Holmes added. "There is potential of a lot of dangerous situations, even Monday morning."
Gov. Bev Perdue declared a state of emergency, activating government resources statewide to help in the aftermath of a winter storm. The declaration is the first step to seeing federal funds to help with any clean-up and repair required.
“It’s important that we're all safe and stay home,” Perdue said.
At RDU, D = deserted
Raleigh-Durham International Airport is open Sunday and prepared for commercial airline operations, spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said. Due to Saturday's winter storm, some airlines have canceled early morning flights, while others are scheduled to depart.
Passengers traveling through RDU over the next several days should contact their airline before coming to the airport to find out the status of their flight. Airline contact information can be found at www.rdu.com. Travel to and from RDU could be disrupted even into Monday.
More than 325 flights, arriving and departing, were canceled Saturday. On Sunday morning, approximately 40 flights were canceled. For those who showed up for their flights, only to see delays, the wait was exacerbated by the lack of airport services.
“So I was there at noon for a 3:40 flight and there's no food,” Gil Gilbert said. “That flight was cancel led so now it's a 5:50 flight. You got a lot people up there. These are like caged animals up there, you know, looking for something to chew on."
Hamlin suggested that travelers ask for flexibility in re-scheduling. "Some airlines, during inclement weather, will allow some flexibility for passengers, allowing them to make changes to their travel plans without penalty."
A few local events go on as planned
The dangerous driving conditions prompted the Durham Performing Arts Center to cancel Saturday's matinee production of "Mamma Mia." Details about ticket refunds would be forthcoming Monday, DPAC said in making the announcement. The evening performance was held as scheduled.
At the RBC Center, sporting events were held as scheduled with free parking for all. The Progress Energy Center, which was hosting "Xanadu" and the PineCone Winter Music Festival, was operating under a "show must go on" policy.
Buses operate on limited schedule
Raleigh's Capital Area Transit closed two routes on Saturday – the downtown R-Line and Route 70E to Brier Creek.
Triangle Transit, which began the day on a normal schedule, announced plans to cease operations at 4 p.m. Saturday because of road conditions.
In Chapel Hill, bus services suspended along routes where the road conditions were deemed unsafe, the town said. Those include the DM Route at Chapel Hill Public Library, and the T and JN routes. For specific information, call 919-969-4900 and press "1."
“Stay home,” Perdue reiterated. “If you don’t have to get out, don’t get out. Have a little bit of fun. It’s a snow day!"