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Winter storm closes I-77 at Virginia-West Virginia border

PRINCETON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Turnpike/I-77 remained open to traffic north of Princeton despite heavy snowfall because weather conditions were worse on the Virginia side of the border.

"Snow was falling at the rate of 2 inches an hour between noon and 7 p.m. on the West Virginia side of the border" Thursday, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Bly.

A series of snow-related accidents along I-77 in Bland County, Va., late Thursday left southbound traffic backed up nine miles into West Virginia at one point, DOT officials said.

While the snowfall contributed to multiple accidents on the West Virginia side of the border, a tractor-trailer wreck 12 miles south of the state line blocked both southbound lanes. In the same area, tractor-trailers were unable to negotiate a grade and became stuck in heavy snow, causing problems for plow trucks trying to clear the road surface.

Southbound drivers were diverted off I-77 at Princeton starting at about 9 p.m. Thursday, and were urged to hunker down in truck stops and shopping center parking lots along U.S. 460 until the roads could be cleared.

"The large number of trucks parked along U.S. 460 caused some traffic problems, but traffic got flowing again [at] about 9:30 a.m., after Virginia was able to open its stretch of Interstate 77," Bly said.

"Our section of the highway is clear of snow, but people still need to watch for icy spots," Bly said.

Eleven to 12 inches of snow had piled up in the Bluefield area and other portions of Mercer County by Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

More than 2,200 Appalachian Power customers in Mercer and Monroe counties were without electricity by 6 p.m. Friday, but the number of power outages was far greater in Virginia's western counties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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