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County thaws after ice storm

By Greg Gelpi

Nearly a quarter of an inch of freezing ice glazed Clayton County Saturday, leaving a layer on ice of roadways, runways, rooftops and power lines.

Gerald Birdow, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said the ice storm was worse than the last one that hit the area.

In 2000, an ice storm of about equal intensity struck metro Atlanta, but Saturday's storm blanketed a much larger area, stretching from the mountains of north Georgia to central Georgia.

Georgia Power reported that at the peak of power outages, Saturday night into Sunday morning, 170,000 customers were without power in metro Atlanta.

Spokeswoman Lynn Wallace said that as of Sunday afternoon 75,000 customers remained without power, including 36,000 customers on the south side of Atlanta. The hardest hit area was in southern Clayton County in the Hampton area.

Wallace said power lines snapped under the weight of ice and broke as tree limbs fell on top of them.

With 5,700 workers resolving power outage problems, she said a "majority" of customers should have power restored by tonight. Metro Atlanta Georgia Power workers were assisted by others from at least six other states and came from as far away as Louisiana.

Despite the widespread icy conditions, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said there were no accidents of any "serious nature" to report.

There were only "fender benders" and a "couple" of trees that fell across roads, Turner said.

Schools in Clayton County suffered only "minor" damage, Larry Anderson, coordinator of facilities for the school system, said.

A crew of about 20 workers began the task of cleaning up debris and taking account of damage at 6 a.m. Sunday, Anderson said. At that time, 26 schools were without power, but, by Sunday afternoon that number dwindled to six, mainly around Lovejoy.

With the return of warmer temperatures Sunday, all four runways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were operational again - a day after the airport had all runways closed for about an hour and never had more than two runways open.

"There still isn't enough demand to have all four operating, but it's much easier today to maintain four runways," said airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas, who added that about 300 stranded airline passengers had spent the night at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Thick blankets of ice, which forced the cancellations of about 90 percent of Saturday's flights, began melting as temperatures climbed above the freezing mark Sunday.

Even with the improved weather conditions, fewer than 100 departures were scheduled out of the world's busiest passenger airport in the morning, Thomas said.

Weather is expected to improve for the remainder of the week, Birdow said, predicting mostly cloudy skies with temperatures rising to the 40s and 50s.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.