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News Wrap: Winter storm knocks out power, leaves South under a layer of ice

February 12, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
Winter Storm
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GWEN IFILL: There was no rest for the winter-weary across the South today. The latest storm to hit the region sent power outages heading toward the half-million mark.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The stinging sleet started falling in Georgia overnight, and by morning, everything was crusted with a coat of ice, just what many across the South were dreading.

WOMAN: Getting ready for the ice, because we’re — that’s what we’re concerned with, not the snow.

KWAME HOLMAN: Ice already was weighing down tree limbs and power lines, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Georgia and elsewhere.

And that number was expected to rise steadily. As the storm kept moving, freezing rain, sleet and snow were forecast to cover a wide swathe of the South, from west of the Mississippi, across Georgia and up the coast through the Carolinas.

In North Carolina, black ice already was wreaking havoc on the roads, with cars in the Raleigh area spinning out.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY, R-N.C.: Don’t put your stupid hat on at this point in time.

KWAME HOLMAN: The state’s governor, Pat McCrory, warned residents to prepare now, not later.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY: Right now is the time to get your batteries out, to get your flashlights out, and get warm clothing on. I hope we’re overprepared and underwhelmed by this storm. We are not anticipating to be underwhelmed by this storm. I hope the forecasters are wrong, but that map doesn’t show they’re wrong at this point in time. It’s coming.

KWAME HOLMAN: Snow accumulations were expected to range from an inch all the way up to a foot-and-a-half in some places. In Alabama, the last round of storms forced officials to buy more salt and spreaders to deal with the snow.

MAN: I think we’re as well-prepared as a small Southern town could be for weather like this. And there are predictions that it will get worse before it gets better still.

KWAME HOLMAN: The warnings sent people to grocery stores in droves to stock up on the basics.

WOMAN: I have just got bread, cereal, crackers, soup, just things that you can make pretty easily.

KWAME HOLMAN: And for air travelers, the storm meant widespread cancellations, more than 3,000 today alone, and the number expected to be even higher tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL: Another major storm struck parts of Great Britain, fueling more of the extreme flooding that began a month ago. The storm pummeled Southern England with heavy rains and winds gusting over 100 miles an hour. It added more misery in a region where hundreds of homes are inundated and more are threatened by the River Thames overflowing its banks.

Under growing pressure, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed today to spare no expense on recovery.

DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: When it comes to this relief effort, money is no object. We will spend what is necessary to help families, to help people, to help communities get through this very difficult time.

I have to say, things are likely to get worse before they get better because of the very high levels of rainfall we have seen, and we see very serious high winds as we speak here in this house today. But whatever can be done to help will be done.

GWEN IFILL: It’s already estimated the flood damage will top $800 million.

The weather’s become an issue at the Winter Olympics as well. It was 63 degrees in Sochi today, so warm and sunny that people hit the beach, sunbathing. Some even went swimming in the Black Sea. As for the results, a spoiler alert: Tune out for a moment, if you don’t want to know what happened just yet.

In snowboarding, American Kaitlyn Farrington captured the women’s halfpipe. And in a first, skiers from Switzerland and Slovenia tied for the gold in the women’s downhill. We will get more on the Games later in the program.

A study 25 years in the making has cast new doubt on the value of mammograms. Canadian researchers studied nearly 90,000 women. They reported today in the British journal “BMJ” that the screening had no effect on breast cancer death rates. We will take a closer look right after this news summary.

The Senate gave final approval today to raising the national debt ceiling, after Republican leaders cast crucial votes to overcome a filibuster. The measure passed the House yesterday. Also today, the Senate followed the House’s lead and repealed cuts in cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees.

President Obama has signed an executive order raising the minimum wage on federal contracts. At today’s White House ceremony, he officially hiked the wage from $7.25 cents an hour to $10.10. A group of minimum wage workers joined him for the occasion.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let’s not forgot, not only is it good for the economy; it’s the right thing to do. There’s a simple moral principle at stake.

(APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you take responsibility and you work as hard as these folks work, you work full-time, you shouldn’t be living in poverty, not in America. We believe that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: The increase affects several hundred thousand federal contract workers, out of more than 2 million.

Another one million people enrolled for health care coverage last month under the Affordable Care Act. That brings total enrollment to 3.3 million. The Obama administration originally hoped to sign up seven million by the end of March.

In Afghanistan, a firefight broke out today between NATO troops and Afghan soldiers, killing two from each side. Officials said it happened in a province east of Kabul after a heated argument turned violent. It was unclear what triggered the argument.

North and South Korea have held their first high-level talks in seven years. Delegates from the communist state crossed the demarcation line to meet with their South Korean counterparts on the armed border. The meeting came at the North’s request, but no agenda was disclosed.

The opposing sides in the Syrian peace talks stalled again today. So far, the Assad government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition have failed even to agree on the agenda. The SNC appealed today to Russia to help force a political transition, which the regime rejected out of hand.

LOUAY SAFI, Spokesman, Syrian National Coalition (through translator): This is what we are demanding from Russia, to respect the Syrian people and to stand with them and to prevent any effort to disable a political solution and to go into side negotiations that are not in the interests of the Syrian people.

FAISAL AL MEKDAD, Deputy Foreign Minister, Syria: They misused the agenda, started with raising the issue of the transitional government, in contradiction with the main priorities as identified by the Geneva I paper.

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, the opposition said nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the three-week period since peace talks began last month.

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was convicted today on 20 counts of taking bribes, free trips and other gifts from contractors. A federal jury found that, in return, he steered them millions of dollars in city work. Nagin was mayor during Hurricane Katrina. He left office in 2010.

Auto giant Toyota is recalling 1.9 million of its Prius hybrids made since March of 2009. The company says a software glitch can cause the vehicles to stall. The recall affects more than 700,000 cars in North America.

Wall Street mostly idled today after a four-day rally. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 31 points to close below 15964. The Nasdaq rose 10 points to close at 4201.

Pioneering TV comedian Sid Caesar died today at his home in Los Angeles. He was best known for “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour” in the 1950s. His work with Imogene Coca in dozens of sketches virtually created comedy on TV. A number of writers on those shows, including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, went on to even greater fame. Sid Caesar was 91 years old.