Winter storm slams East Coast, leaving nearly 200,000 without power

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More than 200,000 customers were without power Monday morning in the Eastern U.S. after a major winter storm swept through the region, causing multiple tornadoes in Florida.

The storm, which brought snow to the northern Plains and the Upper Midwest over the weekend, appeared to lead to thousands of flight cancellations Sunday and Monday.

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In North Carolina, the Transportation Department told residents to stay home and off flooded and ice-slicked roads Monday.

Dreaded black ice made driving particularly treacherous near the North Carolina-Tennessee border, North Carolina Emergency Management officials said.

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Storms in North Carolina appeared to play a role in the deaths of two people Sunday after a vehicle veered off Interstate 95 and struck several trees in a median.

Multiple tornadoes in southwest Florida were blamed for destroying more than two dozen homes and damaging others in Lee County on the Gulf Coast, while thousands of homes were left without power.

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Image: Residents of Century 21 in the Iona area embrace after a tornado touched down in Fort Myers (Andrew West / Reuters)

There were “multiple tornadoes” in southwest Florida on Sunday morning, the National Weather Service in Miami said.

Four people were injured, 34 homes were demolished, and 62 other homes were rendered “unlivable,” Cecil Pendergrass, a co-chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said Monday.

The misery was brightened by one small miracle, as Fort Myers resident Edward Murray feared his dog, Coco, had perished as a tornado ripped his home apart, NBC affiliate WBBH reported.

“Coco was found safe” and the county is “working with those impacted to provide shelter,” Pendergrass said.

Pendergrass said the EF2 tornado had also left around 7,000 homes without power. By early Monday, just under 1,150 homes in Florida appeared to be without power, according to the online tracker PowerOutage.us.

The winter blast left more than 620,000 homes and businesses without power at some point Sunday, most of them in the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast, according to PowerOutage.us.

By late Monday morning, about 230,000 customers across the country were still in the dark, the utility tracking service said. By late Monday afternoon, the number had fallen to about 122,000.

Image: Winter Storm Brings Ice And Snow To The Carolinas (Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

The storm also appeared to cancel thousands of flights Sunday and Monday.

More than 3,000 flights to, from and within the U.S. were canceled Sunday, according to the flight tracker FlightAware. And by late Monday afternoon, more than 1,600 U.S. flights had been canceled for the day.

A spokesperson said American Airlines canceled around 580 flights across its mainline and regional operation Monday.

“This weekend’s winter storm has had a significant impact on our operation,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that the vast majority of affected flights were canceled in advance “so we could proactively notify and accommodate our customers and avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.”

The spokesperson said customers whose travel plans have been affected are able to rebook without change fees.

A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines said the company canceled around 500 flights systemwide Sunday and 75 on Monday “in anticipation of winter weather impacting our operations.”

The airline said it expected to be able to resume regular operations by Monday afternoon, adding that of the affected flights, more than 90 percent, had been given new scheduled flight times within eight hours of their original flight times.

The storm system further wreaked havoc on roadways. Two people were killed in a crash in Nash County, North Carolina, NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh reported.

The State Highway Patrol said the incident happened just before 7:30 a.m. Sunday, when the driver traveling on I-95 southbound veering off the road and struck several trees in the median, WRAL reported.

The driver and a passenger were pronounced dead at the scene, the Highway Patrol said, adding that exceeding a safe speed for the conditions was believed to have been a factor.

A dramatic scene also unfolded Sunday in Durham, where pictures showed a tractor-trailer hanging off a bridge after it slid off N.C. Highway 147.

The driver was taken to hospital and is expected to be OK, WRAL reported.

Marty Homan of the state Transportation Department said structural engineers would need to evaluate the bridge before it can be reopened, WRAL reported. The Highway Patrol did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

A tractor-trailer slid off the N.C. Highway 147 bridge in Durham late Sunday. (via WRAL)

Gov. Roy Cooper warned drivers to “stay put.”

“The best way to avoid a car accident or getting stranded is to stay put,” he said in a statement Sunday. “Fewer people on the road means fewer car crashes, plus it allows highway crews and utility workers to get faster results,”

By early Monday, the storm system had reached the Northeast, and it was expected to move into southeastern Canada by Tuesday, according to the weather service.

It said the system was expected to produce heavy snow over parts of the lower Great Lakes, the central Appalachians and the Northeast on Monday, with rain also expected over the coastal and inland parts of southern and northern New England.

By Tuesday morning, “scattered areas of light snow” are expected over parts of the central Appalachians, extending to higher elevations in the Northeast.

The weather service warned that heavy snow was also expected Tuesday into Wednesday across parts of the Upper Mississippi Valley, near Lake Superior and across Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

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