LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – January 27, 2009 (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, and police reported hundreds of accidents.

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. Missouri's AmerenUE reported about 6,000 customers without service.

Thousands more had no electricity in Kentucky as ice up to 1.5 inches thick snapped tree limbs and power lines, and caused short circuits that made transformers blow out.

"You hear the popping - it sounded like gunfire - and it's limbs from trees breaking," said Hopkins County, Ky., Judge-Executive Donald Carroll, who was among those with now power. He said crews in his western Kentucky county were busy trying to clear broken branches from roads.

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, all 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."

Kentucky Utilities reported about 16,000 customers without power, mostly in western Kentucky, said Brian Phillips, a spokesman for E.ON U.S., the utility's parent. The utility Kenergy reported slightly more than 3,000 customers without power in western Kentucky.

Up to 10 inches of snow was possible in parts of Kentucky, with 6 inches of snow and sleet already accumulated Tuesday morning in the west, the weather service said.

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, three deaths had been blamed on slippery roads in Oklahoma, with two in Missouri and one each in Texas and Arkansas.