RALEIGH — Digging out or hitting the road before black ice melted proved deadly the day after a winter storm hit North Carolina, as five more people died in weather-related accidents, including two Good Samaritans killed while trying to help a fellow traveler.
The storm that dumped as much as 22 inches of snow in the mountains while pelting the eastern part of the state with ice also has Gov. Pat McCrory reviewing two policies: one about state employee workdays and the other involving the 185 classroom days required for students.
McCrory said he'll meet with legal advisers and the top state school officials about what authority he has to give school districts more flexibility to meet their legal obligation of classroom days. He also plans to look at policies that penalize state workers for staying home even as the governor and other top state officials are advising everyone to stay off the roads.
"We're doing a thorough review of the state personnel policy that's been in place for decades and maybe needs to be updated," the governor said.
He wants to ensure that the onus isn't on employees to decide whether to go to work.
Three people died in car accidents on icy roads Thursday evening and Friday, including two men who tried to help the driver of a tractor-trailer cab that had spun out and was sitting perpendicular to Interstate 40 near Garner. One man faces charges that include second-degree murder in that hit-and-run wreck.
Authorities said one man also died when his car first hit an icy patch, then utility pole in Charlotte. Also killed were two people who authorities believe suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow in Burke County.
Officials earlier had attributed three deaths to the storm, including a Pender County man who died Wednesday when a tree limb broke off an ice-covered tree and struck him outside his home in a mobile home park in Rocky Point. Two people also died in traffic accidents in Moore and Chatham counties.
While ice made travel hazardous Friday morning, staying at home wasn't much better for residents without power. Almost 30,000 utility customers were without power Friday afternoon, down from 47,800 earlier in the day and 133,000 Thursday afternoon, state emergency officials said.
Yancey County's Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in the eastern United States, had the most snowfall in the state with 22 inches, said meteorologist Mike Strickler of the National Weather Service in Raleigh. Lower elevations near the mountain saw storm totals of 12 to 20 inches in Surry, Yadkin Wilkes and Alleghany counties, Strickler said. Statesville got up to 18 inches of snow, and to the south in Charlotte 4 to 6 inches were reported.
The Triad area of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point, totals were generally in the 6- to 8-inch range, Strickler said. About 5 inches to 8 inches fell in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, he said.
Fortunately, most of the state missed an extended period of freezing rain, since an accumulation of about a quarter-inch of ice is generally enough to weigh down and snap tree limbs and power lines, Strickler said. About .10 to .30 of an inch of freezing rain fell between Greensboro and Raleigh, he said.
"We were right around the quarter-inch mark and thankfully we didn't get too much more than that, otherwise the power outages would have been a lot more significant," he said.
McCrory was clearly irked that a bus of basketball players from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., was among the vehicles stuck on a North Carolina road.
"I would ask the question of the conferences, what the heck were you doing on a bus last night?" he asked at his Friday news conference. "We need to ensure that we always put public safety over activities that are not a priority to the health and safety of players and coaches, other people involved in games, but also the spectators."
The Chanticleers were returning from game Wednesday night at VMI and had stayed in Lexington, Va., that night because of the snow, said school athletics spokesman Mike Cawood. The ride home took almost 21 hours, with the players leaving about 8:30 a.m. Thursday and arriving in Conway about 5 a.m. Friday.
A couple of tractor-trailers had jackknifed on Interstate 77/74 in Surry County, causing the backup, said Mike Charbonneau, spokesman for the state Transportation Department.
"There never needed to be any saving or anything like that," Cawood said. "They just stayed on the bus and waited for the bus to start back up again."