JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Four deaths from a fire in Mississippi are being blamed on an Arctic blast that spread across the state with below freezing temperatures, snow and sleet, an emergency official said.
Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said the four victims in a mobile home were ages 3 months old to 30 years old. The fire is being blamed on a faulty gas heater in the living room. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham during a news conference blamed the cold weather for the deaths.
Dickinson said a total of nine people were in the mobile home at the time of the blaze and were using the space heater for warmth.
Latham said Gov. Phil Bryant has decided to keep closed - at least until noon Wednesday - all state offices that were affected by winter weather, including those in the Jackson area Capitol Complex.
Latham said 59 school districts were closed Tuesday, and 25 had already decided that classes would be out Wednesday. He said the number is going up, and others are considering starting classes later in the day.
Mississippi Highway Patrol Col. Donnell Berry said troopers had worked 200 wrecks blamed on the weather, which continued to deteriorate in south Mississippi with sleet and snow. Bridges to Bay St. Louis and Ocean Springs were closed.
Treacherous conditions stretched mainly from the Interstate 20 corridor to south Mississippi.
"Just a rule of thumb, if it's south of I-20, it's probably frozen," said Willie Huff of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Members of the House and Senate who had arrived before the onset of bad weather left the Capitol early Tuesday and were expected to return late on Wednesday. Several committee meetings were held Tuesday, even as snow coated the Capitol grounds in downtown Jackson.
The Highway Patrol was reporting that some roads and bridges had iced over and were closed. The patrol urged motorists to stay at home or be prepared for hazardous conditions if they ventured out.
Areas south of the I-20 corridor saw the most snow accumulation Tuesday, said NWS meteorologist Alan Campbell.
While the precipitation stopped in some parts of central Mississippi, more was expected further south.
Robert Ricks, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Slidell, La., said the freezing line was expected to hit the Gulf Coast and last until early Wednesday morning.
Ricks said South Mississippians should expect to see light rain before it transitions slowly to sleet and freezing rain as temperatures continue to drop.
"Once the rain starts, it looks like it will continue through daybreak (Wednesday) morning, about 5 a.m.," he said. "It will convert over to a light snow sometime around midnight before it ends completely.
"It'll be mostly freezing rain, which will freeze on surfaces, so bridges and overpasses get coated really easily with that during the afternoon and evening hours," he added.
Ricks said by the time the storm has passed, south Mississippi could accumulate up to a quarter-inch of ice and possibly an inch of snow depending on when the precipitation switches over.
In central Mississippi, more than 2 inches of snow were recorded in Puckett around 10 a.m., while Florence had roughly 1.8 inches by 10:25 a.m.
Overall, the area should see snow between 1-2 inches, Campbell said.
He said temperatures aren't expected to go rise above the freezing mark until Wednesday.
The warming trend is set to go on through the weekend, too.
Temperatures by Thursday will be about 50 and on Friday, around 60. said Campbell.
All commercial flights into and out of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport were canceled Tuesday, and several flights into and out of Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport were canceled or delayed, according to the airports' websites. Flights also were canceled at the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport.
Bryant issued an emergency declaration Monday for 36 of the state's 82 counties to speed up response to the storm.