ATLANTA (AP) — As crews worked to restore power to hundreds of thousands of Georgians, forecasters hoped warmer temperatures and a few rays of sunshine would melt ice-coated roads across the state.
Yet authorities cautioned Thursday that threats remain.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal extended a state of emergency through Sunday evening for 91 counties.
Areas near Augusta on the state's east side are among the hardest-hit areas as crews struggle to restore hundreds of power outages across the state, Deal said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.
Deal said he planned to fly over the area in a helicopter with Augusta's mayor and an official from nearby Columbia County to assess the situation.
Deal said teams of workers with chain saws helped clear trees and branches and National Guard soldiers were among the resources being sent to help residents of east Georgia.
Pam Tucker, director of Columbia County's emergency services, called the situation "critical" and referred to Wednesday's ice storm as a "major disaster situation," the Augusta Chronicle reported. Tucker said the loss of power affected 85 percent of the county.
Statewide, about 382,000 customers were without power Thursday.
The storm lived up to predictions that it would be "catastrophic" and historic, said Rick Davis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The federal agency had issued the unusually dire warnings before the storm.
"As of right now, it definitely stacks up as a top three winter weather event for Georgia," Davis said.
The Atlanta area saw about a quarter of an inch or more of ice, 1 to 2 inches of sleet and 1 to 2 inches of snow for a total of 3 to 5 inches of frozen precipitation, Davis said. In addition, more than 700,000 people lost power at any given time, though in many cases it was restored quickly.
In 2000, a storm dumped up to a half-inch of ice in some areas and left 500,000 people without power. A snow storm in 1993 that had more accumulation but no ice caused similar problems, Davis said.
The public may not have thought this storm was as bad because many people heeded warnings and stayed off road, but that's not the case, Davis said.
"The public perception may be it went so smoothly," he said. "But if we would have had people out on the road, the reality would have been a nightmare situation."
Though icy conditions remained on streets and highways, forecasters projected highs in the mid-40s Thursday and around 50 on Friday in metro Atlanta. In the hard-hit Augusta area, highs were expected to be around 38 degrees Thursday afternoon and near 50 on Friday, according to forecasts from the National Weather Service.
About 462,000 residential and commercial customers of Georgia Power have lost power in the storm, according to spokesman John Kraft. The utility had restored power to almost 259,000 customers as of Thursday morning, Kraft said. And although crews were making progress, new outages continued to be reported.
"That is not typically as big a problem, but the tree limbs are already heavy and drooping and can break off into power lines," Kraft said. "There is still a danger. Hopefully we are past the worst."
Kraft said there have been instances of utility crews restoring power in a neighborhood only to have a branch fall on a line two blocks away.
"This has been a very serious storm," Kraft said. "From hearing other people talk, this is one of the worst they have seen in quite some time."
More than 100,000 Georgia Power customers in the Augusta area remained without power Thursday.
It's hard to predict when power will be restored to all customers because the utility has to assess each case separately, Georgia Power spokeswoman Amy Fink said. Some outages can be immediately resolved but others require extra people or equipment, she said. The utility had 8,000 people out working on restoring power.
The state's electric membership cooperatives, or EMCs, said about 145,000 of their customers were without power as of 10 a.m. Thursday. Authorities say power has been restored to more than 83,000 customers of the EMCs since the storm began.
The numbers have been fluctuating as crews restored power and new outages were reported.
Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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