WEATHER: The Big Freeze

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As business leaders, local officials and countless citizens responded, some wholeheartedly, others grudgingly, life faltered and changed in many regions of the U.S. The Labor Department estimated that some 500,000 workers had been laid off in plants shut down by fuel shortages. Next summer's crops could be damaged by the effects of the deep-reaching cold on the soil, and the lack of moisture-bearing snow in the West.

Thousands of schools in at least a dozen states, including virtually all those in Georgia, were closed for varying lengths of time. The longest period was in Dayton, which planned a month-long shutdown. Energy emergencies were declared in Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and the city of Milwaukee. Florida's Governor Reubin Askew proclaimed his state a disaster area because of damage to citrus crops. Maryland's Governor Marvin Mandel sought the same designation: 1,500 Chesapeake Bay watermen were frozen out of their oyster beds and fishing areas by layers of ice up to 3 ft. thick.

The natural-gas shortage was called "a nightmare" by Joseph Solters, the Federal Power Commission's gas expert.

"The weather," agreed a U.S. Senate energy specialist, "is going to be to the gas industry what the Arab embargo was to the oil industry." Indeed, if the current weather had coincided with the oil crisis in the winter of 1973-74, the double impact might well have been calamitous. Just how to increase natural-gas supplies remained in dispute (see ECONOMY & BUSINESS), but the time for national dawdling on a comprehensive energy policy has clearly run out. "Jimmy Carter's first confrontation as President will not be with the Russians," said a senior Washington weather scientist."It is with the weather."

The winter that is hurting the economy is also bringing suffering and tragedy to countless Americans. Two elderly men, Pinkney Carson, 66, and Herman Jackson, 62, were found frozen to death in unheated rooms in a New York City residential hotel. A furnace boiler had failed, and the men had huddled under thin blankets as water froze in glasses and ice formed on the cracked plaster of their tenement. In rural Georgia, three young brothers, Timmy Schuler, 11, Brian, 9, and Kirt, 7, romped on a pond covered with ice that had come South with the Northern winter. Timmy saw the younger boys break through and ran to their aid. All three drowned. In Atlanta, Mrs. Irma May Key, 51, died of exposure, after falling a short distance from her apartment. Veronica Hynson, 22, and her three children died in a fire in a Baltimore row house. The oil tank was empty, and the gas jets in a kitchen stove had been turned on for heating.

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