- Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A winter storm hit Nashville earlier than expected on Friday, catching many people off guard and causing gridlock on the interstates.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a state of emergency on Thursday afternoon in anticipation of the coming storm, but TEMA spokesman Dean Flener said it caught even him by surprise. Speaking from his car on Friday morning, Flener said he had been stuck on Interstate 40 for two hours on his way into the office.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller said there were crashes reported across the state but the highway patrol was not working any fatal accidents.

“In the Nashville area many of the interstates are pure gridlock with the area around downtown just totally shut down,” Miller said.

Meanwhile, state offices across Tennessee were closed, warming stations were open, and the Red Cross had shelters on standby near the interstates.

Josh Booker and his fiancee brought their suitcases with them to work Friday morning. They work at a Nashville Waffle House and Booker said the restaurant was putting up employees at a nearby hotel in order to keep the business open 24 hours a day.

He said the restaurant should have put them up Thursday night as well because he had a tough time getting in to work on Friday morning. His car eventually got stuck at an intersection just outside the restaurant, but he said about eight people came out and pushed him into the parking lot.

A few miles away, Frances Davidson was walking from her apartment past a line of stopped cars to get to a convenience store at a nearby gas station.

“I only have a little food in the house,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get out before Monday. We’ll be stuck for days.”

Davidson said she had planned to go shopping Thursday night but put it off until Friday morning because it was raining. When she tried to drive, the car started sliding, so she revised her plans.

“This is my first time having to walk to the store in the snow,” she said.

Across the state, officials were warning residents to avoid all unnecessary travel.

Flights were delayed at the Nashville International Airport, where more than 6 inches of snow fell, and tourism officials worked to inform visitors about available lodging.

Although the storm system was moving to East Tennessee by late afternoon, meteorologist Matt Reagan said the snow in Middle Tennessee was likely to stick around as temperatures were not expected to rise much above freezing on Saturday.

Memphis missed the brunt of the storm, seeing only a couple of inches of snow, but 11 inches of snow fell at Cross Plains, near the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

About 4 inches of snow were expected at the Knoxville airport overnight Friday with as much as 10 inches in the far northeast corner of the state. Up to 15 inches are possible at the highest peaks.

At an apartment complex in downtown Memphis Friday morning, Danielle Aldridge was using a plastic kitchen cutting board to remove ice from her windshield.

“It worked better than I thought it would, but it’s not perfect,” she said.

Aldridge said she works as a nurse at a family practice clinic in the Midtown neighborhood. Unlike government offices and many private businesses in the city, the clinic was open Friday.

“Sick people will come in today,” she said. “That’s part of the deal. Like the post office - rain or shine or sleet or snow, I will take care of my patients.”

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