Helicopters search for stranded drivers
Helicopters took to the skies Wednesday to search for stranded drivers while Humvees delivered food, water and gas — or a ride home — to people who were stuck on roads after a winter storm walloped the Deep South.
Students spent the night on buses or at schools, commuters abandoned their cars or slept in them and interstates turned into parking lots. The problems started when schools, businesses and government offices all let out at the same time. As people waited in gridlock, snow accumulated, the roads froze, cars ran out of gas and tractor-trailers jackknifed, blocking equipment that could have treated the roads. In the chaos, though, there were stories of rescues and kindness.
It wasn’t clear exactly how many people were still stranded on the roads a day after the storm paralyzed the region. By Wednesday afternoon, traffic began moving around Atlanta, though it was still slow going in some areas. The timing of when things would clear and thaw was also uncertain because temperatures were not expected to be above freezing.
“We literally would go 5 feet and sit for two hours,” said Jessica Troy, who along with a co-worker spent more than 16 hours in her car before finally getting home late Wednesday morning.
Their total trip was about 12 miles.
“I slept for an hour and it was not comfortable,” Troy said. “Most people sat the entire night with no food, no water, no bathroom. We saw people who had children. It was a dire situation.”
The rare snowstorm deposited mere inches of snow in Georgia and Alabama, but there were more than 1,000 fender-benders. At least six people died in traffic accidents, including five in Alabama, and four people were killed early Tuesday in a Mississippi mobile home fire blamed on a faulty space heater.
Elsewhere, Virginia’s coast had up to 10 inches of snow, North Carolina had up to 8 inches on parts of the Outer Banks, South Carolina had about 4 inches and highways were shut down in Louisiana.
Atlanta, hub to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, once again found itself unprepared to deal with the chaos — despite assurances that city officials had learned their lessons from a 2011 ice storm. Some residents were outraged that more precautions weren’t taken this time around.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took some of the blame for schools, businesses and government all letting out at the same time, and he said they should have staggered their closings.
“I’m not thinking about a grade right now,” Reed said when asked about the city’s response. “I’m thinking about getting people out of their cars.”
If there was a bright spot in the epic gridlock, it was the Southern-style graciousness. Strangers opened up their homes and volunteers served coffee and snacks to the traffic-bound.