MEMPHIS, Tennessee — A powerful winter storm pounded parts of Tennessee with snow and ice on Monday, causing hundreds of traffic accidents on slick roads and leaving thousands without power.
Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency due to the deteriorating conditions and state offices were closed because of hazardous weather conditions. Only essential state employees were ordered to work. Officials in Tennessee warned motorists to stay off the icy roads.
Middle and West Tennessee north of Interstate 40 appeared to suffer the brunt of the storm, weather officials said.
A steady freezing rain fell for hours Sunday night in Shelby County and other parts of the state. Some places in Middle Tennessee had half an inch of ice on the roads, and Stewart County reported 5 inches of sleet, said Brittney Coleman, a meteorologist with National Weather Service office in Nashville.
Parts of West Tennessee had between 2 to 3 inches of precipitation since Sunday, including sleet, freezing rain and snow, meteorologists said. At Memphis International Airport, the mixed precipitation total was about 1 inch. Sections of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, were still getting snow flurries Monday afternoon.
The freezing rain and ice downed trees and power lines and left more than 61,000 customers without power at one point Monday. About 19,000 customers in the Memphis area were without power Monday afternoon, down from about 30,000 earlier in the day, according to Memphis Gas Light & Water.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol reported 306 weather-related crashes from Sunday through Monday morning, two of them involving fatalities that left three dead. Four tractor-trailers and eight vehicles were involved in a pileup in East Tennessee on Interstate 75 North on Jellico Mountain in Campbell County, THP spokesman Sgt. Bill Miller said in an email. No one was injured.
"There have been widespread accidents all across the state," Dean Flener, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Monday. He urged people to stay inside.
The Rutherford County Sheriff's office reported working about 100 accidents between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday, most of them occurring on Interstate 24 and State Route 840. Nashville police responded to 276 crashes between midnight and 11 a.m. Monday, police officials said. Memphis police responded to more than 150 wrecks in that time.
Many schools and local government offices were closed. After widespread reports of accidents, many people heeded warnings to stay inside and parts of normally bustling cities such as Memphis and Nashville seemed almost deserted.
Philip Nevin and his wife Mary were visiting Memphis from Clare, Ireland, and were walking on a snow and ice covered sidewalk on Beale Street. Nevin said they didn't expect the weather to be as cold and icy and felt lucky that he and his wife brought a heavy coat and gloves.
"This came unexpected. We're just looking around," Nevin said. "It's very quiet. It's kind of a deserted city."
The Nevins were in town for 10 days and planned to visit Graceland, the National Civil Rights museum and other tourist attractions.
Forecasters expect road conditions to remain slick and dangerous because temperatures were not expected to get above freezing anywhere in the state Monday.