By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Commuters in the U.S. South grappled with frigid temperatures and slick driving conditions on Thursday after a storm dumped heavy snow across the region, whipped up winds that snapped power lines and led to the deaths of at least nine people.
Schools in New Orleans, Charlotte and Atlanta and across the region canceled classes on Thursday as winter weather advisories from the National Weather Service (NWS) remained in effect from eastern Texas to Florida and north into southeast Virginia.
"Motorists are urged to use extreme caution, or avoid travel if possible," the NWS said in an advisory, warning that freezing temperatures would keep roads icy.
Wind chill advisories were in effect as temperatures will feel like they have fallen below zero Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) in parts of the Carolinas, Alabama and Virginia.
In Houston, 22-year-old Cynthia Chavez said she walked on ice for the first time in her life on Wednesday, and fell on her second step. She grew up in El Paso, Texas and Houston.
"I was, like, coming out of our house and there was a little step and what I thought was water," Chavez said by phone from Olde Towne Kolaches in Houston where she is a cashier. "Two steps and I was on my butt. At first, I was nervous but then I was like, ah, THIS is ice."
More than 14,000 households and businesses in North Carolina and Louisiana and in various parts of the South were without power early on Thursday, utility companies said online.
The governors of Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana declared states of emergency because of severe conditions that made traveling treacherous.
"We cannot stress it enough for everyone to stay off the roads unless you have no choice," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement, adding the storm had caused 1,600 traffic accidents.
More than 9 inches (23 cm) of snow have fallen in Durham, North Carolina since Monday, with 7 inches (18 cm) or more at various locations across southern Virginia, the NWS said.
The storm has caused at least nine deaths this week. Early Thursday in Washington County of North Carolina, a person was killed when a car slid off an icy road, said Julia Jarema of the state's emergency management department.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Bernadette Baum)