Gov. Bob McDonnell declares state of emergency for Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency Wednesday as up to 20 inches of snow piled up in parts of central and western Virginia, police dealt with hundreds of crashes and utility crews struggled to restore power to more than 200,000 customers.

McDonnell told a news briefing that state offices closed at 1 p.m. and while the full brunt of the storm spared most of the state, snow was continuing to fall from the slow-moving storm.

He warned that "significant additional" power outages were likely.

"This storm is not at all over," McDonnell said. "Over the next 12 hours, as the storm churns up the coast quite slowly, we expect a lot more heavy wet snow, we expect heavy winds and that is a dangerous situation. So stay off the roads, stay inside, enjoy the day off."

Dominion Virginia Power, the state's largest utility, reported 114,000 power failures. Until the storm abates and crews can check the damage, it said it couldn't venture when customers would get their power back. Dominion's outages were among more than 200,000 statewide, with the others primarily involving electric cooperatives. They offered the same assessment.

The storm was hitting hardest an area from Richmond west to Charlottesville and north of that along the Interstate 81 corridor.

McDonnell's emergency declaration authorizes state agencies to position resources where needed, out-of-state utility crews to join in restoration efforts, and the Virginia National Guard to deploy up to 200 personnel. About 50 Guard soldiers were being sent to central and northern Virginia to help with snow removal.

Snowfall depths by midday ranged from 10 inches in Albemarle County up to 15-20 inches in the Shenandoah Valley. Up to 2 feet of snow was expected in the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains before the storm ended later Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

A foot to 14 inches was expected east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Interstate 95. Winds were gusting up to 30 mph, straining tree limbs and branches laden with snow.

Virginia State Police reported 367 vehicle crashes statewide over a 10-hour period and 237 disabled vehicles. They reported no fatalities, although a couple dozen crashes involved injuries. Dispatchers responded to more than 1,300 calls.

The Triple A said it had received 576 requests for emergency roadside assistance over a 13-hour period.

The Virginia Department of Transportation had 2,424 plows and sanders and 7,144 contractors clearing roads.

"It's an ongoing battle," said Sandy Myers, a spokeswoman with VDOT's Staunton office. "We're still asking people not to travel today. Fortunately people seem to be listening to that advice."

In Richmond, a drenching overnight rain turned to fat, wet snowflakes by rush hour. Downtown streets were under an inch or more of slush as cars struggled up the slightest inclines amid spinning tires.

By mid-morning, most commuters appeared to be heading out of Richmond. An exception was Clint Davis, an attorney who was heading to the federal court building for motions hearings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

"Unless they cancelled court, I had to be here," said Davis, who was wearing a hooded slicker over his suit to shield himself from gobs of snow blown from trees. "I'll be here for two or three hours and come out to a snow-covered car."

Mike Nappi was walking near the Capitol with a large backpack hoisted over his shoulders and a take-out Italian sub in his hand. He was on his way to the train station a mile away to head up to northern Virginia. He was flying to Istanbul on Thursday for a vacation.

"I thought about taking a bus, but Richmond's small enough to ride a bike or walk," he said. "I figured, why not walk?"