(Changes day of week in paragraph 13)
By David Beasley
ATLANTA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Warmer weather was poised to roll over the U.S. South, bringing relief after an ice storm which paralyzed much of the region, stranding motorists, blocking highways and leading to at least seven deaths.
“Certainly, the worst is over,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Corfidi. “Today - from a combination of sun, moderating temperatures, and dry air - some of the ice will just evaporate.”
The storm on Tuesday began to sweep over a region of about 60 million people largely unaccustomed to ice and snow, stretching from Texas through Georgia and into the Carolinas.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came under fire for his response to a storm that trapped hundreds of children in schools overnight and created traffic jams stretching for miles on roads coated with 2 inches (5 cm) of snow.
Georgia officials on Thursday were to use four-wheel-drive vehicles to shuttle motorists to cars they abandoned on highways, blocking traffic and stranding thousands of drivers in their cars for as much as 24 hours.
Road crews planned to provide gas to fill empty tanks and a jump-start for cars with dead batteries. Other motorists would be offered rides to cars moved during clean-up efforts on Atlanta area roads.
Schools and government offices would be shut on Thursday in Atlanta due to the ice storm, city and school websites said. Early on Thursday, it was an unseasonably freezing 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-9 C).
But later on Thursday, temperatures were expected to climb to the mid- to upper-30s Fahrenheit (2 to 4 Celsius) in the Georgia area and would get gradually warmer into the weekend, Corfidi said.
It would warm up in other parts of the storm-affected Southeast, too, and by Sunday some areas could see temperatures in the low 60s F (15 to 17 F).
At least five deaths in Alabama and two in Georgia were blamed on the weather.
The storm took a toll on air travel across the region, with more than 2,600 U.S. flights canceled and hundreds of others delayed, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com.
There were some 640 U.S. flight cancellations and about 198 delayed early on Thursday morning.
Atlanta Mayor Reed said it had been a mistake to have at least a million people outside on Tuesday.
“During the day, we have a million to 1.2 million people in this city and all those people were out in very bad weather. It hampered our ability to get our equipment on the ground and to prepare our roads for that,” Reed told a news conference.
“The error - and we have shared responsibility for the error - the error was letting everybody out at once,” he said.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said all of Atlanta’s school children had been safely returned to their families by Wednesday evening, with help from the National Guard and State Patrol.
Deal had earlier angered many - including local meteorologists - when he described the storm late Tuesday as “unexpected.” (Reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; Writing by Eric M. Johnson Editing by W Simon)