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Winter storm sweeps through U.S. South

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ATLANTA — A rare winter storm swept through the Deep South Wednesday, leaving millions of people across the normally sunny region struggling to cope with snow, sleet and bone-chilling temperatures.

Between 2 inches and 4 inches of snow fell in parts of Georgia, Alabama and several neighboring states, turning highways, bridges and overpasses into a slippery mess.

Police in Louisiana closed part of an interstate near Baton Rouge and motorists in Montgomery faced treacherous driving conditions as the Alabama capital was blanketed with its largest snowfall since 1993.

The storm was blamed for two deaths in the region.

"Any time there is a significant snowfall in Alabama, we are just not accustomed to driving in it, so we certainly are urging motorists to use extreme caution if they have to be out there," said Scott Adcock, a spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

Although snow was not reported in Florida, the state was hit by gusting winds and heavy rain. A tornado also touched down southwest of Miami, felling trees and signs and ripping the roof off of a lumber yard. No injuries were reported.

Officials at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, said de-icing equipment had been made available and snow-removal teams were prepared to work 12-hour shifts if necessary.

The last significant snowfall to hit Hartsfield occurred more than a year ago.

Delta Air Lines Inc. , the No. 3 U.S. airline and busiest carrier at Hartsfield, said it expected 10 percent to 15 percent of its system-wide departures would be canceled Wednesday due to the storm.

The Atlanta-based airline added that arriving flights were not being affected by the weather. It urged passengers to check its Web site or reservation line before heading off to the airport.

"We are planning for normal operations tomorrow, but again that is all dependent on weather conditions," said Delta spokeswoman Katie Connell.

The storm, which began building in the lower Mississippi Valley region earlier this week, was expected to continue moving in a northeastern direction through the Carolinas Wednesday.

Meteorologists said up to a foot of snow could fall in the mountains of North Carolina as the storm moved northeast and could even sweep into Virginia. They did not rule out more snow or sleet in the rest of the South Thursday.

Although Southerners were griping about the wintry weather Wednesday, the storm sweeping through the region was a minor event compared to the nearly 7 feet of snow that paralyzed Buffalo, New York, last week.