LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Schools closed and thousands of homes and businesses had no electricity Tuesday as a storm spread a coating of ice and snow on roads and power lines from the southern Plains to the mid-Atlantic states.
At least seven deaths had been blamed on the weather.
Highway department crews were out in force spreading salt and sand on the accumulating ice.
Ice had built up as much as an inch thick around Mountain Home, Ark., and the utility Entergy Arkansas said about 5,800 customers were blacked out as the weight of ice brought down power lines.
"The way it's shaping up, it looks like it's going to be a major ice storm," weather service meteorologist Chris Buonanno said in Little Rock.
The National Weather Service posted ice storm and winter storm warnings Tuesday along a broad swath from Texas and Oklahoma through the Mississippi and Ohio valleys to New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
Public schools, colleges and universities called off classes Tuesday in parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Maryland. In West Virginia, 49 of the state's 55 counties reported school closings.
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry declared a state of emergency Monday for all 77 counties and authorities urged residents to stay home. Dozens of flights were canceled at the Oklahoma City and Tulsa airports Monday.
Arkansas utility officials warned customers to prepare for up to three days without power, and many heeded the warning. At a Lowe's in Fayetteville, sales of generators were up and shoppers were buying batteries, flashlights, kerosene lamps and oil and electrical cords.
"This appears that it could be very significant," said Arkansas highway department spokesman Randy Ort. "I'm hoping people are paying attention to the forecast and will not be going out. It just takes a thin layer of ice to lose control."
As much as 1½ inches of sleet and freezing rain had accumulated Tuesday morning in western Kentucky, and the ice was making transformers explode and bringing down trees and power lines, said weather service meteorologist Robin Smith in Paducah. Up to 10 inches of snow was possible in some of the state.
The heavy ice accumulation also was bringing down trees and power lines in extreme southern Illinois, officials said.
Elsewhere in the Ohio Valley, many businesses had closed in southern Indiana in anticipation of the storm. The weather service said as much as 9 inches of snow was possible in Ohio by the time the storm ends Wednesday, and Cincinnati operations supervisor Greg Ayres said streets already looked "terrible" Tuesday morning.
Since the storm began building on Monday, two deaths had been blamed on slippery roads in Oklahoma, with two in Missouri and one each in Texas, Arkansas and Maryland.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and editor Roger Petterson in New York contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)