FLORENCE, S.C. -- A severe winter storm that packed "epic ice" wrought destruction in the way of downed trees, power outages and wrecked vehicles  Wednesday across the Pee Dee and much of South Carolina.

"The utility companies have been phenomenal,"  Gov. Nikki Haley said of the companies' response to the storm.

Not counting electric cooperative crews working the storm, utility companies have 4,600 crew members working to restore and maintain power as ice continued to fall.

Duke Energy has about 3,400 restoration personnel in place as a winter storm begins to move through its Carolinas service territory.  That includes about 500 from the company’s Midwest and Florida operations, according to a release issued by the utility Wednesday.

In the Pee Dee ,  Duke Energy crews are staging at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing Technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College ,  where their vehicles Wednesday morning all but filled one of the facility's parking lots.

“We have seen outages in the Carolinas, but we expect the brunt of the storm to hit our region Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night,”  said Jeff Corbett, senior vice president of Duke Energy’s Carolinas Delivery Operations. “In areas where we have freezing rain and heavy wet snow, you should expect outages.”

Statewide ,  there were 82,000 reported power outages as of 11 a.m., Haley said.

"Epic icing continues,  and the impacts have increased significantly across northeast S.C.  and southeast N.C.," Steven Pfaff, National Weather Service meteorologist, said through an e-mail shortly before noon Wednesday.

The National Weather Forecast late Wednesday morning increased the projected ice accumulations throughout the Pee Dee to where Florence is projected to receive between three-quarters to 1 inch of ice while areas north and west of Florence could receive in excess of an inch of ice.

Haley said current projections are that Wednesday's ice storm will be worse than a similar event in 2004.

National Weather Service meteorologists have indicated the overall impact of Wednesday's storm will mirror the damage left in the path of a hurricane as it passes inland.

As a precaution, Haley requested a federal emergency declaration for South Carolina, something President Barak Obama signed for Georgia earlier in the week.

"Governor Haley has requested a federal declaration of emergency in order to gain access to FEMA assets," Douglass V. Mayer, Haley's communications director, wrote in a release issued Wednesday morning.  "This request is a pre-emptive measure to support state and county operations during the event. If approved, this declaration provides flexibility to the state to request commodities and personnel augmentation, such as generators, bottled water, meals ready to eat, and support teams. If granted the federal government will cover 75% of the cost, with the state responsible for the remaining 25%."

Mayer indicated the state spent $2 million recovering from the storm at the end of January.

"The state of South Carolina is committed to preparing for and responding to the severe winter weather, however, the state of South Carolina and its local counties and municipalities have exhausted all other resources in the preparation and require the assistance of the federal government to adequately respond to this emergency situation," Mayer said.

A similar declaration was approved earlier in the week for Georgia.

SCDOT has 5,200 workers out clearing roads and has had 4,400 tons of salt delivered to clear the roads, which should be enough to keep salt trucks supplied and running through Friday, Haley said.

One problem hampering storm responders of every variety is traffic on the states roads, Haley said.

So far there has been one fatality on Interstate 95 and two wrecks that have involved law enforcement officers, she said.

"This is not a good day to have anybody out on the roads," Haley said.  "If you get out on the road, you’re not only endangering yourself, but you're endangering those first responders that are dealing with wrecks and things on the road as well."

SCDOT crews have been able to keep all roads and bridges open throughout the state with the exception of the Ravenel Bridge. That span between Mount Pleasant and Charleston has iced over, Haley said.

Because of the bridge's construction, SCDOT can't use salt on the bridge without causing long-term deterioration to the structure, she said.

Wednesday's ice storm is the second punch of a one-two combination that started Tuesday and is projected to end Thursday morning throughout the Pee Dee.

"Our experience has been with some of these past storms -- like the one in 2004 we've mentioned -- there have been some areas that've had three quarters to an inch of freezing rain, and it took a week to two weeks to get back on their feet in some areas," Pfaff said. "Some of the people we spoke to said the destruction from those past storms was more severe than some of the hurricanes they've had over the years in these inland areas."

On  Wednesday afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologists said warmer temperatures had reached the coast and were starting to spread inland -- and bringing an end to the ice storm as they did.

"We have seen some warming, but because the accretion of ice can still happen on aloft or elevated surfaces, we're going to see these conditions continue, more of an icing issue with below freezing temperatures at ground level in portions of the pee dee into evening hours," Pfaff said.

On the positive side, though, Pfaff said areas that saw their temperatures climb above freezing Wednesday would likely remain above freezing.

The focus on the storm's impact will remain over the Pee Dee throughout the remainder of the afternoon and on into the evening, he said.

"The amounts are starting to come down, but they're still significant," he said of accumulation projections.

From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., the axis of icing is more to the northwest along a line through Florence, Dillon and Lumberton, he said.

From 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., accumulation amounts should continue to decrease and move north and west beyond the Florence, Dillon and Lumberton line, he said.

The storm may have a parting show as it exits, he said.

There's a 20-40 percent chance of frozen precipitation during a period late Thursday morning into early afternoon as the system departs mostly over the line along Florence, Dillon and Lumberton, he said.

In addition to a series of power outages, Pfaff said many reports of personal injury have come into the National Weather Service.

"People have gone to the hospital because of their slips and falls -- car accidents, even reports of limbs and trees falling onto people," Pfaff said. "It's just the worst case scenario has unfolded in front of us."

Trees and tree limbs will continue to fall in those areas that remain at or below freezing, he said as he urged people to remain indoors.

Across the Pee Dee on Wednesday afternoon, emergency responders, SDCOT crews and utility linemen responded to report after report of trees down across roads and power lines.

Crews prioritize work to ensure power is restored as quickly as possible to the largest number of customers. Essential services such as hospitals and emergency responders have priority, said Jeff Corbett, senior vice president of Duke Energy’s Carolinas Delivery Operations.

“Our crews will work as quickly and safely as possible to complete restorations,” Corbett said. “Depending on the number of outages and the amount of damage sustained, we know from past storms some customers may experience multi-day outages.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of being prepared and having a plan in place now in the event your power goes off.  We appreciate our customers and their advanced preparedness and patience as we brace for this unprecedented event.”

Darlington County officials sent blasts of text messages and emails to urge residents to stay off the road. They said calls to 911 should be limited to emergencies.

 

State officials earlier Wednesday sent out an email asking all state residents to stay off the roads during the storm.

"Florence County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was elevated to OPCON 2 to facilitate coordination of resources for assistance and assessment in response to the winter storm forecast for the Florence County area today," natural hazards coordinator Kristy Hughes wrote in a release issued shortly after 10 a.m.

Many schools throughout the area announced they would be closed Thursday as the area slowly recovered from the storm.

Weather forecasts call for temperatures in the upper 30s for the Pee Dee Thursday and higher temperatures Friday. Rain Friday night is expected to happen before overnight lows dip below freezing, Pfaff said.

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