Snow brings gridlock to Atlanta, chaos to South

Credit: NBC NEWS

Snow brings gridlock to Atlanta, chaos to South


by NBC News

Posted on January 29, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 10:46 AM

A rare winter storm glazed the South with snow and ice and paralyzed the city of Atlanta, which was so choked with traffic that drivers abandoned their cars and trudged to churches and home-improvement stores to spend the night.

Schoolchildren were still stranded Wednesday morning across the region, including nearly a thousand in schools outside Birmingham, Ala., and 850 in Marietta, Ga., where buses started to take the kids home on Tuesday afternoon but had to turn back because of bad roads.

Photos:  Snow, ice shut down the South

As a winter storm grips the Southern U.S., nearly 2,000 students spent the night in a Georgia school and at least 900 accidents were reported across the state. Six states have declared a state of emergency. The Weather Channel's Managing Editor Sam Champion reports.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell said teachers stayed with stranded students throughout the night, giving them food and water and trying to keep them calm.

"We realize that is not good enough for parents who want to hold their children in their arms,'' Bell told Reuters. "We are doing all we can to reunite children with their parents.''

The storm dumped less snow than expected in many places. Columbia, S.C., got an inch and a half, and Atlanta 2½ inches. Virginia Beach, Va., which was expecting as much as a foot, reported 7 inches. But the snow and ice slickened a part of the country unaccustomed to winter weather of any kind.

In Atlanta, two children spent the night on a bus and were still trapped inside at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday — 18 hours after the snow started to fall.

Traffic maps of the city looked like an illustration of the human heart, red arteries in all directions. Gov. Nathan Deal sent military Humvees on to the clogeed freeways to deliver food and water and help stranded school buses.

“We know you want to get home, and we are going to work all day until you can return safely,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said early Wednesday on Twitter.

Some drivers reported that they were stuck for 10 hours or more, and at least one baby was born during the gridlock — a little girl who was delivered by her father and a police officer on Interstate 285. Paramedics got the family to a hospital.

"I pulled over to check on them, And I asked the dad, 'Are y'all broke down?'" Officer Tim Sheffield told the TODAY show. "He goes, 'No, we're having a baby.'"

The Home Depot said it kept 14 Atlanta-area stores open overnight to provide shelter for stranded drivers.

“People are helping each other out. People are moving cars that have spun out or had become disabled,” Debbie Hartwig, a waitress at an Atlanta-area Waffle House, told The Associated Press. “It’s been really nice. I even saw people passing out hot coffee and granola bars.”

Most of the storm’s worst had passed by Wednesday morning, but a winter storm warning was still in effect from the Florida Panhandle to Ocean City, Md., and a hard-freeze warning stretched from Texas through Alabama.

“Today will be just as bad as yesterday in terms of the state of the roads,” said Guy Walton, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

High school students walk home past gridlocked traffic on Highway 92 in Atlanta on Tuesday. School buses were not able to operate in many areas.

Icy roads were further snarled by businesses and schools letting people leave early on Tuesday in an attempt to beat the worst of the bitter conditions. Authorities in Alabama were left red-faced after declaring a state of emergency only for the southern half of the state, leaving out hard-hit Birmingham and sending available equipment the other way.

Not all the misery was on the roads: More than 3,500 flights were delayed across the U.S. by mid-morning Wednesday with another 1,426 canceled, according to FlightAware.