Snow chaos at world's busiest airport

Atlanta: As four inches of powdery snow coated the city, aides to Georgia's new governor debated until the last minute whether to cancel Monday's black-tie inauguration ball and ask the Motown cover band to pack up their instruments.

Then, as roads grew slicker, the event's planners made a plea to constituents seldom heard in politics: Stay home. Skip the inauguration. Cook chili and drink cocoa.

"Please, unless you absolutely have to be here, it's best not to come," said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, a Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman working on the ceremony. She urged Georgians to watch the swearing-in of Governor-elect Nathan Deal online or on public access television rather than risk skidding off the street.

Here is a sign of how brutal the weather is -- at least by Georgia standards: Before canceling the ball, Mr. Deal even called off the scheduled prayer service, as drastic a move in the South as canceling a football game.

Elsewhere across the South, as snow piled 11 inches in Tennessee and a foot in North Carolina, plans were ditched with equal haste. Clemson delayed a basketball game against Georgia Tech. The Postal Service announced that mail deliveries would be "sporadic at best" in Georgia, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution warned readers not to expect their newspapers.

At the nation's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, scores of flights were canceled. Passengers slept on benches in terminals. The line for a taxi took more than an hour.

Southerners were left with a feeling of disbelief. The region was hit hard by a snowstorm in late December. The initial excitement Monday over "snow days" off from work and school quickly yielded to frustration that the snow might linger until the end of the week.

The back-to-back storms took a toll on the travel plans of Phil Kinzer, a biblical studies professor from Nashville, who recently led a student trip to the Middle East. His departure was delayed for three days by the December storm. Then on Monday, the 14-person group found itself stuck again at the Atlanta airport, with its flight home on Delta canceled indefinitely.

"Just about everything is shut down," he said. "You can't get anywhere. If you go inside the airport, all you see is 'canceled, canceled, canceled.' "

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service predicted that the snow would move north along the Atlantic coast, depositing as much as nine inches in New York and a foot in New England on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the South, sleet and freezing rain are expected to follow the snow, said Bruce Terry, the lead forecaster for the weather service.

The governors of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee declared states of emergency. Two weather-related deaths were reported, both from car accidents in Louisiana.

The authorities have identified at least one advantage to the miserable weather: In Dalton, Ga., a liquor store was robbed on Monday morning. The police were able to arrest the suspected thieves in an apartment by following their footprints through the snow.