The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

January 29, 2014

One day after storm, Atlanta highways still gridlock

ATLANTA — Students spent the night on buses or at schools, commuters abandoned their cars or idled in them all night and the highways-turned-parking lots iced over when a winter storm slammed the city, creating a treacherous traffic jam that lasted into Wednesday.

It wasn’t clear exactly how many people were still stranded out on the roads nearly 24 hours after the storm slammed the Deep South on Tuesday. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said it was “a lot of people,” and officials were working to get them food, water, gas and eventually a way home.

The timing of when things would clear was also uncertain because temperatures were not expected to be above freezing for very long, meaning the roads may not have a chance to thaw.

“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.”

The rare snowstorm deposited mere inches of snow, and yet it was more than enough to paralyze Deep South cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and strand thousands of workers who 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.

Linda Moore spent 12 hours stuck in her car on Interstate 65 south of Birmingham before a firefighter used a ladder to help her cross the median wall and a shuttle bus took her to a hotel where about 20 other stranded motorists spent the night in a conference room.

“I boohooed a lot,” she said. “It was traumatic. I’m just glad I didn’t have to stay on that Interstate all night, but there are still people out there.”

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, 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.

Still, Georgia leaders seem aware of public angst and tried to mitigate it. Reed took the blame for schools, businesses and government all letting out at the same time, and he said they should have staggered their closings.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto Atlanta’s snarled freeways to try to move stranded school buses and get food and water to people. Georgia State Patrol troopers headed to schools where children were hunkered down early Wednesday after spending the night there, and transportation crews continued to treat roads and bring gas to motorists, Deal said.

Around Atlanta, nearly all public entities and most businesses were shut down early Wednesday. Officials encouraged would-be motorists not to drive. City buses were not running, and some commuters who opted for rail service met new frustrations as they stood on platforms awaiting trains into the city center.

If there was a bright spot in the epic gridlock, it was that the bitter cold brought warm, Southern-style graciousness to the fore, as strangers opened up their homes, volunteers served coffee and snacks to the traffic-bound, and schoolbound principals played bingo and other games with stranded students to while away the time.

Debbie Hartwig, a waitress at an Atlanta-area Waffle House, said she managed to keep her cool thanks in part to the kindness of strangers after 10 hours on the road.

“I’m calm,” she said. “That’s all you can be. People are helping each other out, people are moving cars that have spun out or had become disabled. It’s been really nice. I even saw people passing out hot coffee and granola bars.”

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.

“I’ve got 12 to 18 people right now. They’re getting warmed up,” Simmons said. His guests included a family that got stuck in the Atlanta area en route to Texas, several motorists, and two homeless men.

“Everyone is sitting around chitchatting like they’ve known each other for years,” he said. And in true Southern style, the guests were served pork barbecue.

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 said an 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.”

Meanwhile, people took to social media such as Facebook to appeal for overnight shelter — or to offer guest rooms, fire stations, churches and park gymnasiums to those needing a warm place to stay after spending hours in their cars. People on one page, SnowedOutAtlanta, offered guest bedrooms, fire stations, shelters and just about any other warm building to stay. Even a supermarket offered lodging.

Reed said all of the students on buses in the city limits had been taken to safe places, such as fire stations. Officials did not have an estimate on how many children spent the night on buses.

Outside of the city limits, there were also problems getting children home. DeKalb County schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond said early Wednesday that district employees and the county police chief managed to get all but a handful of students to their homes in the hours immediately following the storm, and about five kids stayed overnight at a middle school.

In Acworth, a suburb northwest of Atlanta, Barber Middle School Principal Lisa Williams said 972 pupils had made it home by late Tuesday but five still remained after their parents got stuck while trying to reach them.

“We are in the front office playing bingo and eating snacks,” Williams said, adding that 40 school workers also had decided to stay put instead of risking a dangerous drive home.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Atlantic City Future.jpg Pain of Atlantic City casino closings far-reaching

    Yomary Blanco cleans rooms at Trump Plaza, one of three Atlantic City casinos that could shut down by September. Her husband works the buffet at the Showboat, which is scheduled to close on Aug. 31.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obama Medal of Honor.jpg Obama bestows Medal of Honor on NH veteran

    President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor Monday on a former Army staff sergeant who fought off enemy fighters during one of the bloodiest battles of the Afghanistan war.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obama LGBT employment rights.jpg Obama gives protection to gay, transgender workers

    President Barack Obama on Monday gave employment protection to gay and transgender workers in the federal government and its contracting agencies, after being convinced by advocates of what he called the “irrefutable rightness of your cause.”

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • James Garner Obit 2.jpg Film, TV legend James Garner, reluctant hero, dies

    Few actors could register disbelief, exasperation or annoyance with more comic subtlety.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Gay Marriage Oklahoma_Cast.jpg US appeals court tosses Oklahoma's gay marriage ban

    A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Oklahoma must allow gay couples to wed, prompting a fast, angry response from leaders of a state that has vehemently fought policy changes brought on from outside its borders.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ricin Letters Texas.jpg Texas woman who sent ricin gets 18 years in prison

    A Texas actress who tried to blame her husband after sending ricin-laced letters to officials including President Barack Obama was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in prison.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Helicopter Dispute.jpg Senate derails Army bid to take Guard helicopters

    The Army has lost an initial Senate skirmish over a hotly disputed plan to take Apache attack helicopters away from National Guard units in a budget-cutting move that has infuriated governors and state military leaders.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fashion-Nordstrom Dis_Cast.jpg Nordstrom ads feature models with disabilities

    It’s not easy to find models with disabilities in ads for the fashion and beauty industry — unless you look in the Nordstrom catalog.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Peace Corps allowing its applicants more choice

    The Peace Corps launched a new online application Tuesday that allows applicants to choose the countries and programs where they want to serve and removes red tape that was dissuading people from completing the international service organization’s application process.

    July 15, 2014

  • House to take up highway bill as deadline looms

    With an August deadline looming, the House is poised to act on a bill that would temporarily patch over a multibillion-dollar pothole in federal highway and transit programs while ducking the issue of how to put the programs on sound financial footing.

    July 15, 2014