- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Even with many restaurants closed by the arctic front that iced in much of Louisiana, some tourists were happy to be stuck in New Orleans.

Jeremy and Jeannie Gray stranded themselves on purpose.

The Atlanta couple had planned to fly to New Orleans to meet friends arriving by cruise ship. When their flight was canceled, they drove in, leaving at 7 a.m. Tuesday and arriving that afternoon.

“We saw it coming and we decided to get ahead of it,” Jeremy Gray said Wednesday.

After all, they had a choice of frigid places: “We left the disaster that was in Atlanta to come here,” Gray said.

The couple was strolling an unusually quiet French Quarter looking for a place to eat breakfast, peering into the padlocked courtyard of one shuttered restaurant.

Gray looked up and down St. Peter Street. “It’s probably the deadest I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

Ice closed more than 20 highways statewide - including every interstate through Baton Rouge, where yards were frosted and streets mostly empty. State police logged dozens of weather-related crashes overnight, but said there were fewer than during the storm last week.

Bill McIntyre, fresh from hauling a car back onto Louisiana Highway 30 between Baton Rouge and St. Gabriel, said he’d had 15 calls between 5 and 11:30 a.m. from people who needed his winch truck.

He sometimes had to run behind the truck for cover, he said - he’d wave to warn drivers of ice that had sent whoever he was helping into a ditch, and those cars would start sliding a bit sideways.

“It’s a mess. All morning long, they can’t find enough wreckers to get them out of ditches. People don’t know how to handle the ice at all,” he said.

Winter storm warnings ended but the National Weather Service had a hard freeze warning for much of the state into Thursday.

Persistently frigid temperatures and cloud cover should keep many roads icy through Thursday morning, and residents should avoid driving if possible, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.

“This is the word of the day: Ice. It’s dangerous,” he said. “You can take the risk if you like, but the risk is very, very high.”

Landrieu said city police dealt with two dozen weather-related crashes, but none was fatal.

Limited flights resumed Wednesday at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, which typically has 260 flgihts a day.

The first flights arrived at midmorning, about a day after airlines suspended service. Resumption varies by airline, airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said.

“Whatever is coming in is going back out,” she said.

State offices remained closed in 49 of the 56 parishes where they had shut down Tuesday; 48 of 64 parish school systems remained closed.

Though it will warm up for the weekend, long-range forecasts out of Washington indicate that another cold front may drop temperatures below normal starting Sunday, said Jason Hansford, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Shreveport. “At this time it doesn’t appear to be as significantly cold as we’ve experienced in the last couple of days,” he said.

But, he cautioned, “Forecast confidence really deteriorates after 5 to 7 days.”

The cold chilled commerce in uptown New Orleans. Streets usually awash with school and workday traffic were largely quiet Wednesday morning.

Eighty-two-year-old Ann Babington was about the only person on the bike and jogging path around Audubon Park, bundled up for her daily 2½-mile walk. She was an hour later than usual - she decided to attend a later Mass at her church.

“There’s no hurry because everything is closed,” she said.

Darren Clement opened his Magazine Street hardware store at 8 a.m. Wednesday and was still waiting for his first customer about an hour later. However, the past two days had been brisk: Clement Hardware sold out of space heaters and pipe insulation and was low on flashlights, gas cans, kerosene and other items that typically fly off the shelves during the sweltering months of hurricane season.

“This is kind of our winter hurricane,” he said with a laugh.

___

Contributing to this copy were Associated Press correspondent Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge and writers Brett Martel on the road between Baton Rouge and St. Gabriel, and Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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