Thousands of Atlanta-area residents remain stranded in cars on highways around the city after a snow and ice storm crippled the ninth-largest U.S. metropolitan area yesterday and much of the nation’s Southeast region.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said city and state officials are working to clear roads and free motorists. Throughout the state, a total of 1,254 accidents were reported with 134 injuries and one weather-related fatality, Deal said. There were 791 accidents in Atlanta, Reed said in a press conference.
“All I’m concerned with now is how we are going to get folks out of their cars,” Reed said. “That is the main priority.”
Reed said the traffic issues resulted from the majority of workers in the city and students at area schools taking to the roads at the same time yesterday afternoon, causing gridlock.
“We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave,” Reed said. “I’ll take responsibility for this. Lesson learned. If we had to do it again, we would have had schools go first, the private sector second, and government last. That would have helped.”
Georgia, along with the southern U.S. states of Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi, remain under states of emergency. Deal said state government offices will be closed tomorrow and urged other businesses to keep their employees home.
“We need to be able to get stranded vehicles removed and treat the roads,” Deal said. “We can’t do that if there are vehicles still scattered on the roads.”
As of midnight, 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters), a record for the day, had fallen in Atlanta, according to the National Weather Service. Areas of northwestern Georgia received from 2 to 3 inches with some pockets of 4 inches being reported.
While skies were clearing in the city, the weather service kept a winter storm warning in place through this afternoon because of “hazardous driving conditions.”
Temperatures in Atlanta were expected to fall to 15 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 Celsius) tonight and then rebound to 42 tomorrow, the weather service said. By this weekend highs of at least 59 are forecast with a chance of rain.
The storm was caused by a burst of arctic air that swept across the central U.S., triggering ice and snow storms across the south and sub-zero temperatures throughout the Midwest. It left 4 to 6 inches of sleet and snow across North Carolina.
Deal said the primary factor that led the city to be crippled by less than 3 inches of snow was a miscalculation of the weather forecast. Initial weather models predicted that the majority of the storm would pass south of the Atlanta area, Deal said.
“There is not a person in this room that could have predicted the degree and magnitude of the problem that developed,” he said in a press conference.
About 2,000 students still remained in Fulton County schools as of 11 a.m. local time, Deal said. That number was down from the 25,000 students stranded on buses or at schools in the county as of 6 p.m. last night, Deal said. Many students spent the night on buses that became stuck on icy roads.
In Roswell, a Fulton County suburb located about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta, hundreds of elementary and middle school children spent the night in their schools after buses were unable to navigate icy roads.
About 90 middle school children slept in Roswell’s Holcomb Bridge Middle School after the road was shut down to traffic, principal Joy Schroerlucke said in an e-mail to parents.
Sleeping at Schools
“The buses are on the roads but unable to move because of ice and accidents,” Schroerlucke told parents at 9 p.m. local time yesterday. “Your student is safe, warm and well-supervised.”
Deal said the National Guard will be used to escort home about 2,400 children still stuck in Georgia schools.
Throughout the Atlanta area overnight, stranded motorists abandoned their cars and walked, many traveling miles on foot to their homes or to local businesses.
“Neighbors are helping neighbors and neighbors are helping people they don’t even know,” Deal said.
While some of the city’s major events, including the International Production and Processing Expo, the world’s largest annual poultry, meat and feed industry event, wasn’t affected, tonight’s National Basketball Association game between the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons at Philips Arena has been postponed, the league said in a statement.