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News Wrap: South, Mid-Atlantic declare states of emergency for coming blizzard

January 22, 2016 at 6:50 PM EST
Snowplow trucks work on the roads as the snow begins to fall in Washington January 22, 2016. The leading edge of a monster snowstorm arrived on Friday afternoon in Washington, D.C., threatening to dump as many as 30 inches (76 cm) of powder on parts of the Middle Atlantic region and bring record accumulations to the U.S. capital. After days of planning by emergency officials and a scramble by residents to stock up on supplies, the blizzard got underway in the nation's capital at about 1 p.m.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  - RTX23LSX
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A blizzard is bearing down tonight on Washington, D.C., and states to the north and south. The snow moved in this afternoon, shutting down schools, government and transportation, and canceling thousands of flights, forecasters warning that, by this time tomorrow, they will be measuring in feet, instead of inches.

With store shelves nearly empty, and road crews gearing up, millions across the Eastern U.S. waited for the worst. Forecasters are predicting one of the biggest storms ever in the Mid-Atlantic especially, with up to three inches of snow an hour. As the wall of weather closed in, blizzard warnings or watches went up from Arkansas and Tennessee, through Washington and as far north as New York.

About six inches of snow fell overnight in the Little Rock, Arkansas, area, breaking a record set more than 20 years ago. It shut down schools and state government offices. And, in North Carolina, the snow started falling before sunrise, triggering a number of fatal wrecks.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY, North Carolina: Where I’m seeing the accidents is where it looks like it’s a safe road, and people are speeding, and because they assume it’s safe, because they don’t see snow on the roads. And that’s our greatest concern right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: North Carolina declared a state of emergency, along with Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. So did the nation’s capital, sitting squarely in the blizzard’s bullseye, with estimates that more than two feet of snow will fall.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER, Washington, D.C.: I want to be very clear with everybody. We see this as a major storm. It has life and death implications, and all the residents of the district of Columbia should treat it that way. We have a forecast that I don’t think we have had in 90 years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In a bid to beat the storm, the federal government closed all its Washington offices at noon. And for the first time, the city’s entire subway system planned to close for the weekend.

Meanwhile, all the major airlines issued waivers for the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook and avoid the storms. The snow and high winds are expected to continue into Sunday, amid warnings of more than a billion dollars in damage. So far, at least five people have died in storm-related accidents.

In the day’s other news, bad weather off the Greek islands caused one of the worst migrant tragedies yet. At least 46 people, including 17 children, drowned when two wooden boats capsized as they tried to cross from Turkey. So far, dangerous winter weather conditions have not stopped the surge of people trying to reach Europe by boat. But the rising fatalities make this the deadliest January on record.

The prime minister of Iraq now says criminal gangs may have abducted three Americans in Baghdad for ransom. But he also says it is not yet clear they were kidnapped at all. The three disappeared in Baghdad last Saturday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke in Davos, Switzerland, today, where he’s attending the World Economic Forum.

HAIDER AL-ABADI, Prime Minister, Iraq: I have to rely on the information I have. A, we don’t know if they have been kidnapped. They’re missing. We’re still looking for them. There were not demands so far. I don’t believe there is any political thing out of this, because what political gain would anybody get from that?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Other Iraqi officials and some Western security sources have said two Shiite militias are the top suspects in the abductions.

North Korea announced today it has detained an American college student. He is identified as 21-year-old Otto Frederick Warmbier from the University of Virginia. He had been in the country on a five-day tour. North Korean state TV made the announcement. It said Warmbier is accused of committing unspecified — quote — “hostile acts” and allegedly plotting to destroy the country’s unity.

The U.S. State Department said it is looking into the report.

In Somalia, at least 20 people died overnight when Islamist gunmen attacked a popular beachside restaurant. It happened in Mogadishu, and the Islamist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. The attackers set off bombs and then opened fire on diners, triggering an hours-long gun battle with security forces. It wasn’t clear how many gunmen were among the dead.

Tunisia’s government imposed a nationwide curfew today in a bid to halt violent demonstrations over youth unemployment. Tensions flared this week after a young job seeker was electrocuted when he climbed a transmission tower in protest. Unemployment in the North African nation has worsened since the 2011 revolution that launched the Arab Spring.

And back in this country, Wall Street rallied as oil pushed back above $32 dollars a barrel. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 210 points to close above 16090. The Nasdaq rose nearly 120 points, and the S&P 500 added 38. Overall, the market scored its first weekly gains of the year.

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