ATLANTA -- Mail wasn't delivered, buses didn't run. Hardly any planes took off from the world's busiest airport. Normally clogged highways were eerily empty.
Metro Atlanta took the brunt of a historic winter storm by coming to an almost complete standstill.
Millions hunkered down in ice-coated homes Wednesday, wondering if the lights would go out -- or when they would come back on.
And officials hope today will be much the same, even as temperatures climb above freezing and the sun reappears.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed essentially asked the public to stay put.
"We need to let everyone understand that we're in the middle of this," Reed said Wednesday afternoon, likening the situation to the middle rounds of a long prize fight. "The hardest part of this storm is tonight and tomorrow.
"Control the cabin fever. Go for a walk. But please don't go out in your vehicles," Reed implored. "Please give us another day." As expected, ice did the most damage as it encased power lines and tree limbs.
By late Wednesday hundreds of thousands of households statewide had lost power at least for a time. Utility crews fanned out south of the city and east toward Augusta to repair outages caused by branches falling and ice-laden lines snapping. A Georgia Power map tracking the outages showed more than 95 percent were south of I-20, where the storm brought less snow but more freezing rain and sleet.
The big utility said it could be next week before all power is restored.
Scores of weather-related vehicle wrecks were reported, but none with fatalities by Wednesday evening.
However, two people may have died from storm-related injuries. In Butts County, a 50-year-old man was found
dead on his porch and most likely died of hypothermia, authorities said. In Whitfield County in North Georgia, a 63-year-old woman was found unresponsive in her home. She had no heat or electricity.
Responding to the power outages was an exhausting routine played over and over again, like filling a bucket with holes. The more crews patched up lines and restored power, the more new calls came in. Ice coated everything it touched, including workers' jackets, helmets and gloves, and, of course, made a mess of the lightly traveled roads.
At 4:15 Wednesday afternoon, Georgia Power said 244,000 customers had been out of power, with 113,000 restored and 130,000 still in the dark. But 10 minutes later, the number needing service grew by 6,000. And with more ice coming late Wednesday and early today, the total could blow past the 300,000-plus households out of power during the storm of 2000 that occurred when the Super Bowl was in Atlanta.
"If it's as bad as they say, it may be worse than anything I've seen before," said Kevin Underwood, a line crew supervisor for and 27-year veteran of Walton EMC, a utility that serves customers east of the city.
Deal: 'Stay off the roads'
Gov. Nathan Deal and Reed, stung by criticism for their reaction to the snowstorm two weeks ago, each spent time Wednesday to use the continuous TV weather coverage as a bully pulpit to implore metro residents to remain in hibernation.
The storm so far has matched forecasters' dire predictions, said Deal, who worried some residents may start venturing outside.
"People who think they can drive on ice are probably sadly mistaken," said Deal, who closed state government. It will remain closed today. "The best thing they can do is to stay off the roads unless it's absolutely necessary."
Residents -- many of whom were marooned in their cars during the last storm -- didn't need much prodding to stay off the streets. Main roads during Wednesday's rush hours were devoid of vehicles.
A few did venture out. At midday Wednesday in DeKalb County's Northlake area, a few people drove to stores for items while Brian Hyden whizzed about on an ATV to see if walkers needed a ride.
"I don't like staying in the house, so if I can give somebody a hand, I'll give them a hand," said Hyden, who carried a small spade, a machete and a chainsaw on his ATV, making him ready for just about any emergency.
Post office playing it safe
The treacherous roads dented the U.S. Postal Service's unofficial motto of "neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow will keep this letter carrier from his appointed duty." Michael Miles, a postal spokesman, could not say when delivery would resume.
"If we are able to get trucks on the road and employees can get to work safely, then operations will resume," he said. "Right now the weather conditions are dictating what we can do."
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which canceled bus service and went to a weekend rail schedule, experienced delays Wednesday because of slippery tracks.
"We are asking our customers to be patient and allow extra time for their trips," MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris said.
On Wednesday, airlines canceled the vast majority of their Atlanta flights, some 2,200 in all, with more cancellations set for this morning. But both Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines expect to begin rebuilding their schedules by afternoon.