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Challenges remain in Tennessee after last week's deadly winter storms

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Temperatures in the South and East are finally climbing after a week of severe cold and winter storms. At least 90 people have died due to the severe weather nationwide. The highest death toll so far is in Tennessee, where more than two dozen deaths have been attributed to the storms. Much of the state saw a deep freeze with record-low temperatures.

With us now is Tony Gonzalez, news director at WPLN in Nashville. And, Tony, this kind of weather is pretty rare for Nashville. So tell us, how bad was it?

TONY GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, the first thing that came down was the snow. There was more than 7 inches in Nashville. I mean, that's an amount I've only seen a couple times in the 12 years that I've lived here. And at first, a lot of people were kind of embracing it - you know? - the novelty, kids out of school, sledding. There were even people skiing down the hill of the state capitol.

But then there was the cold. It stayed below freezing for days, and that was different. Nashville and many parts of Tennessee went all the way down to zero degrees or colder. And some places hadn't felt that much cold since 1996 - you know, almost 30 years ago.

SUMMERS: And as we mentioned earlier, all of the snow, the freezing temperatures, they did take a toll. Would you tell us about the danger and some of the problems that emerged?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well, the roads became very dangerous. And a lot of places in Tennessee don't have enough equipment to treat or plow all of the streets. So some of them just became, you know, a total sheet of ice for an entire week. Unfortunately, many of the deaths that have occurred in Tennessee were related to roadway crashes. If we look just at the city of Nashville, where there actually weren't any deaths, first responders still counted a couple hundred calls where they were either helping drivers or dealing with abandoned cars. One of the leaders of the city's Department of Transportation, his name is Phillip Jones, and he says that it was a tougher storm than usual.

PHILLIP JONES: This one's been a little bit different just because of the amount and the deep freeze that we went in. I mean, we got into subzero temperatures, which really made it a challenge.

GONZALEZ: So that combination of snow and freezing, that led to school being out for a week, lots of businesses closing and there was a pause on a lot of city services. You know, the libraries were closed. Parks were closed. And there was no garbage pickup for a full week.

SUMMERS: I understand it's getting a bit warmer now. Nashville is starting to thaw out. Does that mean that things will go back to normal?

GONZALEZ: Well, yeah, it is much warmer today. It is thawing. But there is still a concern about bursting pipes and water main breaks. There have been boil water advisories in many communities, including Memphis. Otherwise, people kind of getting ready for the next time. Nashville has ordered a couple dozen new plow trucks, and they hope to have those ready in time for, you know, whenever the next big winter storm is.

SUMMERS: Tony Gonzales is the news director at member station WPLN in Nashville. Tony, thank you.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WOODRA$TA SONG, "EARLY MORNING SMOKE SE$H") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tony Gonzalez, a reporter in Nashville since July 2011, covers city news, features inspiring people, and seeks out offbeat stories. He’s also an award-winning juggler and hot chicken advocate who lives in East Nashville with his wife, a professional bookbinder. During his time at The Tennessean newspaper, his investigative reporting and feature stories were honored in the state and nationally. Gonzalez grew up near Chicago and came to Nashville after three years reporting and editing at Virginia's smallest daily newspaper, The News Virginian.