- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia State Police were busy responding to traffic accidents and reports of disabled vehicles Friday during the early stages of a major winter storm that threatened to dump 2 feet of snow in some areas of the state.

Utilities reported only minimal power outages Friday evening, but officials warned that more were likely as the snow continued to pile up. A blizzard warning was in effect in the portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains and from the Fredericksburg area to points north.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said that by mid-afternoon, troopers had responded to more than 500 vehicle crashes - none of them fatal - and nearly 400 disabled vehicles.

Schools and government offices closed across most of the state, and the Virginia General Assembly canceled its daily floor sessions and committee meetings because of weather for only the second time in nearly five decades. While state highway crews and equipment were out in force to plow and treat roads, authorities advised people to stay home if possible.

As the snow began to fall, many people made last-minute dashes to grocery and hardware stores before hunkering down.

At Pleasants Hardware in Richmond, Reggie Jones stowed four sleds, a shovel and two bottles of an ice-melting product in his SUV.

“Everybody’s looking for them,” he said of the sleds, “so I’m going to make sure there’s enough for kids in the neighborhood.”

Inside Pleasants, vice president of sales Darrell Campbell described Friday’s business in one word: “Robust.”

“Sleds, shovels, ice melt - and that’s it. That’s pretty much all that’s going out the door,” Campbell said.

A few blocks away, Molly McCormick and Amanda Mitchell loaded plastic sacks of groceries into the hatchback of their car, preparing for a snowbound weekend and a Friday night dinner party.

“We’ll see if anyone shows up,” Mitchell said as drivers jockeyed for parking spaces on a full lot outside of a Kroger supermarket.

McCormick, who lives in northern Virginia, was in Richmond to visit Mitchell, a teacher who had the day off when classes were canceled.

“I planned on being stuck here,” McCormick said, adding she hoped to head to Fairfax on Sunday. “If I can’t, I’ll go back as soon as I’m able.”

Meanwhile, a homeless shelter in the small southwest Virginia town of Galax began getting calls from people needing coats, food or a place to stay soon after the snow began to fall.

Tammy Harmon, director of the Galax Hope House, said her shelter was beyond full capacity, with two people using extra cots.

“Since the temperatures dropped over the past week, we have definitely had a lot more phone calls, a lot more people needing shelter,” Harmon said. “We had to actually take some people to some other shelters so they wouldn’t be on the street.”

The snowstorm was greeted more happily at Virginia’s ski resorts.

“We’re thrilled,” said Hank Thiess, general manager at Wintergreen ski resort in central Virginia. “Going forward, we’re set up to have just a terrific second half of the ski season.”

He said he’s expecting 40 inches of dry, powdery snow, perfect for skiing.

“We’re going to have a packed snow surface that will just be outstanding,” he said.

___

Associated Press Writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.

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