'Rush Hour From Hell' Drags On In Icy Southern Cities
Update at 12:17 p.m. ET. 'Obviously, There Were Errors':
During a televised press conference, the governor of Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta both said they would take responsibility for the mess unfolding across Atlanta's highways.
CNN reports that the broad effect is now coming to light: Officials says one person died, 130 were hurt, and 1,254 accidents were reported during the snowstorm.
"Obviously, there were errors," Gov. Nathan Deal said. The forecast, said Deal, called for heavy accumulation in the southern part of the state, so they made a decision not to mandate tractor trailers to use chains on their tires.
That was a mistake, Deal said, because the ice and snow caused the tractors to jackknife, blocking the road to both traffic and to state vehicles trying to make things better by salting the roads.
Mayor Kasim Reed said another mistake was asking everyone in the city to go home at the same time. That order unleashed worst-than-rush-hour traffic on the city and left thousands of vehicles stuck in snowy, icy highways.
"We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave," Reed said.
Deal said that the National Guard will help escort home the more than 2,400 students who were stranded by the snowstorm.
Update at 6:35 p.m. ET. Commute Continues:
The "rush hour from hell," has stretched into its second day and continues into this evening, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Police are in the process of moving abandoned cars from the highways in order to treat the icy roads. But, the paper does have some good news: Most of the hundreds of students stranded at school, are back home today.
"More than 10,000 students hadn't arrived home as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, but that number shrank to about 2,000 by around noon on Wednesday, according to estimates released by Gov. Nathan Deal's office," the paper reports. "By Wednesday afternoon, few, if any, students were still waiting for rides."
Our original post picks up the story about how bad things are in several states:
By 4 a.m. ET Wednesday morning it was hour 16 of what had turned into a "rush hour from hell" in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution writes, as thousands of vehicles there and in other cities of the Deep South remained stuck on roads that were covered in snow and ice by a fast-moving storm that blew threw Tuesday.
That's worth repeating: Hour 16.
According to the Journal-Constitution:
"Traffic was still bumper-to-bumper and barely moving on several Atlanta interstates, including on I-75 north of downtown, on I-20 west of downtown and on the top-end Perimeter.
"Students remained stranded at schools early Wednesday, as commuters lucky enough to make their way to makeshift shelters began waking up in churches, fire houses and stores that remained open all night to provide a warm place to stay as temperatures plummeted into the teens."
NPR's Russell Lewis, who spent the night in the offices of WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., another city socked in by snow and ice, says meteorologists concede they made a huge mistake. A storm that they had said would hit hardest along the Gulf Coast left behind more ice and snow in parts of central Alabama and Georgia that had been expected.
Only a few inches may have fallen, but it came at just the wrong time and quickly overwhelmed highway crews who don't have the equipment and salt to deal with the effects of such a storm.
In some places, students and teachers were kept in their schools overnight — sleeping on wrestling mats laid out in gyms and on carpets in classrooms. Home Depot stores in the Atlanta area opened their doors to stranded travelers.
Russell says Wednesday's front page of The Birmingham News sums up the situation pretty well: "CHAOS" it reads, over a photograph of cars and trucks stopped on snow-covered highway.
As our public broadcasting colleagues and other news outlets from across the region report, officials have declared states of emergency and/or urged people to stay off the roads in:
The good news, the National Weather Service says, is that "snow, sleet and ice will begin to wind down across the southeast U.S. on Wednesday."
But other parts of the East are now feeling the storm's effects. In North Carolina, for instance, "Charlotte-area residents are awakening to icy road conditions Wednesday morning, in the wake of a winter storm that left 1 to 2 inches of snow across the region," writes the Observer.
A little to the north, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Virginia State Police troopers have responded to 250 calls for service since 3 p.m. Tuesday in the region including the Richmond area, a spokesman said this morning. The total includes 78 crashes, mostly involving property damage, and 73 disabled vehicles."
Update at 9:10 a.m. ET. Tractor-trailers Asked To Stay Out Of Georgia:
Just how bad are the gridlocked roads in Atlanta and the slip-slide conditions across much of Georgia and the Deep South after Tuesday's ice and snow storm?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that officials are asking truck drivers to stay away — not just from Atlanta, but from the whole state.
"If there isn't already a tractor-trailer in Georgia, please stay out," Karlene Barron, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, says. One major reason that roads around Atlanta are still clogged with vehicles nearly 24 hours after the storm began is that they're blocked by big rigs that can't get going on the ice. More trucks could just add to the chaos.
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