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You think it's bad here? Atlanta gridlocked by 'storm'

Chaos in Deep South as four centimetres of snow blanket cities

Students camped out in school gyms or on buses and commuters abandoned cars along the highway to seek shelter in churches, fire stations — even grocery stores — after a rare snowstorm left thousands of unaccustomed Southerners frozen in their tracks.

Tuesday’s storm deposited almost two inches of snow (about 4 centimetres), not nearly enough to qualify as a storm here in Canada. But we’ve got plows, salters, snow tires, and experience. Lots of experience.

Deep South cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham have none of this, and highways simply bogged down as thousands of workers tried to rush home early only to never make it home at all.

Overnight, the South saw fatal crashes and hundreds of fender-benders. Jackknifed 18-wheelers littered Interstate 65 in central Alabama. Ice shut down bridges on Florida’s panhandle and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world’s longest spans, in Louisiana. Some commuters pleaded for help via cellphones while still holed up in their cars, while others trudged miles home, abandoning their vehicles outright.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who is taking heat for not having been prepared for the storm despite tweeting “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow” before it hit, said “a lot of people” are still stranded in their cars nearly 24 hours later. He said the focus today will be on getting food, water and gas to those people.

No one knew exactly how many people were stranded, but some employers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield in Alabama had hundreds of people sleeping in offices overnight. Workers watched movies on their laptops, and office cafeterias gave away food.

Atlanta

Vehicles are left abandoned on the roadway on the Southbound Connector early Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 in Atlanta. After a rare snowstorm stopped Atlanta-area commuters in their tracks, forcing many to hunker down in their cars overnight or seek other shelter, the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto the city’s snarled freeway system in an attempt to move stranded school buses and get food and water to students on them, Gov. Nathan Deal said early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

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 that brought the city to its knees. Some residents expressed outrage that more precautions weren’t taken this time around and schools and other facilities weren’t closed ahead of time.

But officials from schools and that state said weather forecasts indicated the area would not see more than a dusting of snow and that it didn’t become clear until late Tuesday morning that those were wrong.

Officials also noted that poor travel conditions were exacerbated Tuesday by a mass of workers ending their days early.

At the non-denominational Action Church in Canton, Ga., church members kept the lights on for stranded motorists. Tommy Simmons, a church member, said the church parking lot was filling overnight with cars of stranded motorists.

Heroes also had their day. Police in suburban Atlanta say one of their own helped assist the safe delivery of a baby girl on a gridlocked interstate Tuesday afternoon after snow and ice brought traffic to a crawl.

Sandy Springs Police Capt. Steve Rose told The Associated Press the baby girl was safely delivered around 5:20 p.m. Tuesday amid gridlocked traffic on Interstate 285. A traffic officer arrived with only minutes to spare before the infant arrived.

“Fortunately he had his emergency lights on and people got out of his way,” Rose said. “The delivery was pretty flawless.”

Atlanta

Matthew Miller walks along the Southbound Connector offering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot drinks to motorists stuck in traffic early Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 in Atlanta. Miller, who lives in Grant Park, heard about all of the stranded motorists and decided to offer help. After a rare snowstorm stopped Atlanta-area commuters in their tracks, forcing many to hunker down in their cars overnight or seek other shelter, the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto the city’s snarled freeway system in an attempt to move stranded school buses and get food and water to students on them, Gov. Nathan Deal said early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TV OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT

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