COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Now that the snow and ice have ended in South Carolina, hundreds of thousands of residents are waiting for power to return so life can get back to normal.
The final act of the three-day winter storm were downpours of rain early Thursday morning that froze on contact, leaving power lines and tree limbs encased in an inch or more of ice. That sent them crashing to the ground and about 350,000 utility customers in the dark when the sun rose.
Crews restored power for thousands Thursday, but 295,000 customers in the state faced a night in the dark.
Officials warned it could be next week before power is back on for everyone.
The winter storm was also deadly. Authorities said the storm contributed to four deaths — one man poisoned using a grill to heat his bedroom, one in a fire caused by people trying to keep their home warm in Marion and two in wrecks on slick highways.
It was the worst storm to hit South Carolina in a decade. The federal government agreed with Gov. Nikki Haley's request to declare the state a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid. It was the first time South Carolina had a declared disaster since 2006. No other state in the nation had been spared longer.
Roads remained icy and slushy, but people started to brave the conditions. Many of them were looking for a warm place to stay or gas or groceries.
The Highway 521 Minimart was the only business open in western Georgetown County on Thursday morning. Nearly a dozen cars were waiting in line to get gas and the store was crowded with people looking to buy supplies.
Wesley Carter lost his power as the storm started around 11 a.m. Wednesday. No power didn't just mean a lack of heat and light, but it also left him out of work. The machine shop he owns can't run without electricity.
"This thing just slipped up on everybody," Carter said.
More than an inch of ice coated trees and power lines in Barnwell County, according to the National Weather Service. An inch-wide band of ice extended east through Bamberg and Orangeburg counties and into Colleton, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
"Ice is not easy to clean up. You usually have to wait for it to melt away," Bamberg County Emergency Services Director Sharon Hammond said.
Areas along Interstate 95 from Florence north also were hit hard. Francis Marion University lost power. Marion County Supervisor Tim Harper said his county was a mess with dozens of roads blocked by fallen trees and branches and nearly every home and business in the dark.
"It was an ugly night," Harper said.
A man died Thursday afternoon in Berkeley County, likely from carbon monoxide poisoning, trying to heat his home with a charcoal grill, Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said. One person died in a house fire in Marion and a second person was injured Thursday morning while trying to heat their home with the power out, Harper said.
The Highway Patrol blamed at least two traffic deaths on icy conditions. Troopers say a 24-year-old passenger died when a car hit a tree limb knocked down by ice around 2 a.m. Thursday in Hampton County, and a woman died around 8 a.m. Wednesday when she lost control of her vehicle on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County and hit the back of a Department of Natural Resources truck on the side of the road helping a motorist.
In the Upstate, 4 to 8 inches of snow fell, icing up roads, but causing few power problems.
The Ravenel Bridge in Charleston remained closed another day as ice fell from the bridge cables. Temperatures rose above freezing across the entire state, but roads were expected to refreeze Friday morning.
Power was being slowly restored in some areas. But smaller, rural power companies warned of historic damage to their grids.
The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported 144,000 customers without power Thursday evening, a number that rose slightly during the day. South Carolina Electric & Gas reported about 90,000 outages and Duke Energy reported about 65,000 customers without service.
The hardest-hit areas are spread throughout the state. Power companies said most of the customers in Aiken, Colleton, Dillon, Florence, Marion and Sumter counties were without service.
SCE&G officials said most of its outages are in rural areas, so they are moving crews out of cities to help. They said they will restore power as quickly as possible with the company's 1,200 workers getting help from contract crews from utilities in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky. But it will likely be early next week before their work is done.
Other utilities are still trying to assess the damage and figure out how long it will take to get power restored.
The electric cooperatives also brought in out-of-state crews and were bringing workers from co-ops that weren't heavily affected south to help where the outages were concentrated, said Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training.
Troopers have responded to about 3,000 weather-related calls through Thursday morning. They reported more than 350 ice-laden trees or branches blocking roads overnight.
Jimmy Ward and his wife Cherie decided to test the roads Thursday after losing power the day before at their Bonneau home. They were looking for a hotel because they were running low on propane and needed to rest after a harrowing night of listening to pine trees snap under the weight of the ice.
"From 2 o'clock yesterday until this morning it just sounded like gunfire — all the trees popping and falling," Cherie Ward said.
Associated Press Writers Bruce Smith in St. Stephen, Meg Kinnard in West Columbia and Jack Jones in Columbia contributed to this report.