Atlanta, Charlotte winter storm takes aim at Northeast

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Hey Northeast, now it's your turn.

The storm that Atlanta and Charlotte weathered is headed your way. And forecasters say this may be your biggest winter blast of the season so far.

The nation's capital shuttered its doors under the threat of up to 10 inches of snow.

All federal offices in the nation's capital were ordered closed, and thousands of employees were being told to stay home, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Heavy snowfall may close down the city's Metro system.

Philadelphia braced for up to 11 inches of snow, while New Yorkers waited for as much as 15 inches.

Boston was in the bulls-eye too, with up to 8 inches expected there by the end of Thursday.

In the South, states sprang into clean-up mode as power outages mounted and hundreds of thousands of customers shivered through a cold, dark night.

The storm has pulled the plug on more than 772,000 customers, across 14 states and the District of Columbia. The vast majority of them are in Georgia, North and South Carolina.

And it will batter air travel for a second day.

Nationwide, more than 4,400 flights were canceled for Thursday. The total topped 3,400 Wednesday.

Rail travel isn't immune. Amtrak has suspended some service in the Northeast, South and Mid-Atlantic regions again for Thursday.

Southern contrasts

While Atlanta appeared to have learned its lesson from a paralyzing snow storm a couple of weeks ago, drivers in the Carolinas got their own taste of nightmare commutes as the storm system raced up the East Coast. The storm appeared to take people by surprise despite days of warnings.

"It's really, really bad, and it got so bad so quickly that people just weren't ready. Even though we were warned, it just happened more quickly than you would think possible." said Christina Martinson, who was stuck in the snowbound traffic with her husband and son for hours in Durham, North Carolina.

"We saw so many people ... cars piled up and left on the side of the road, and wrecks."

Along Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh, dozens of vehicles sprawled along the roadway when suddenly a car burst into flames.

"This car started spinning out and it started to smoke under the hood and it lit up very quickly," said Lindsay Webb. "And within minutes that whole car was in flames."

For ROTC instructor Henry Sims, his typical 25-minute commute home from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill turned into a four-hour marathon.

It was frustrating, but also heart-warming, he said, as he witnessed Good Samaritans at work along the highway.

"I saw (a) couple walking down the road clearing the snow from the windows of vehicles that were trying to get home," he said. "To me, it showed that there are still kindhearted people in the world even if there is a disaster."

No one was immune from the traffic jams.

There were snowplows on the roads but "unfortunately some of our own trucks are stuck in the same traffic jams that a lot of other people are and they're having a hard time getting to the roads that need to be cleared," said Dan Howe, Raleigh's assistant city manager.

"Right now we've got people traveling up and down the highways in special four-wheel vehicles to make any rescues that we need to make, and more than anything else we're just encouraging people to be smart, and don't put their stupid hat on during the next 48 hours," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation urged people not to abandon their vehicles.

Lesson learned

Shamed nationally by its own massive traffic jams, Atlanta drivers hunkered down at home Wednesday as sleet, ice and snow blanketed the area. Very few ventured out.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal applauded residents who kept the roads clear, calling it "a good starting point."

But the state's transportation department asked drivers to keep their cars parked again Thursday as road crews spread more salt and sand.

"We have to be able to put a great layer of that down on the roads and we can't do that if traffic is pushing it off to the side," Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale told CNN affiliate WSB. "One more day, bear with us."

Temperatures are forecast to warm into the 40s on Thursday, which will help clear the roads.

In Fayetteville, south of Atlanta, a new mom struggled to keep her family warm in the aftermath of the storm

"I have a 6-year-old and a 5-week-old," Tori Webberley told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "We are almost out of wood, but took apart a small entertainment center that was in the garage to burn for heat."

Northern exposure

As the powerful storm system pushed up the Eastern Seaboard, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told state agencies to prepare "for an impending nor'easter" and asked residents to avoid unnecessary

travel.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie struck a similar tone.

"I think what you can anticipate is it might be a day to stay inside and stay warn," he said. "And not worry about traveling around the roads too much. I want people to stay safe."

Deadly toll

At least 10 deaths have been blamed on the weather, including a 55-year-old man who was killed in a head-on collision in Virginia, authorities said. Two people were killed in Georgia, and two died in North Carolina, they said.

In Texas, three people died when an ambulance driver lost control on an icy patch of road outside of Carlsbad, the state Department of Public Safety said. A patient, a paramedic and another passenger were pronounced dead at the scene.

In Mississippi, authorities blamed the storm for two traffic deaths.

Close call

In Atlanta, 86-year-old Leila Grier said she thought her days were over when a huge tree coated in ice crashed onto her house early Wednesday, bringing the roof down on top of her as she slept.

Grier came out of it with some cuts, bruises and a big shiner under her eye, but she'll be okay.

"I'm still kind of shaky from it, cause I realize it could have been a lot worse," she said. "I thought it was judgment day."

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Chandler Friedman and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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