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Students Left Stranded After Winter Storm Slams South

Students camped out with teachers 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 mere inches of snow, barely enough to qualify as a storm up North. 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.
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"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."

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, 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. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said on Twitter Wednesday morning that crews are working diligently to salt and sand roadways. He added: "We know you want to get home, and we are going to work all day until you can return safely." Twenty hours before, he offered this message on Twitter: "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow."

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

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. A sea of red brake lights remained at a standstill along a dozen lanes of the Downtown Connector shortly before dawn Wednesday.

If there was a bright spot in the epic gridlock in the region, 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 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."

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.

At least a few students were still aboard school buses stuck on roadways in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, though the scope wasn't yet clear. Steve Smith, associate superintendent with Atlanta Public Schools, told WSB-TV that two students from the district remained on one bus.

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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      In Alabama, there are "Still" people stuck on the roadways in there cars. All the news is focused on Atlanta, but Birmingham and parts South are still in a very big Emergency on the roads. Check it out! https://www.facebook.com/groups/strandedhelpgroup/ They need State Emergency help in Alabama. I live in Tennessee. See the comments on this Facebook site. God Bless them.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh for heck's sake ya'll, let me explain snow to you; when it comes down as ice pellets at first, THEN large hunks of wet slush and LASTLY the powder-it falls in the wrong order and it means YOU WILL NOT BE MOBILE-FOR DAYS! It didn't START as a dusting like it does in the North and North West! It started wet! THINK! We all knew it was coming early Monday-and I am from here ( GA ) for 45 years now! I AM sorry for the deaths but I am more sorry that a stupid transplanted country girl like me KNEW in advance what a bunch of locals obviously didn't. A heads up; Ya'll aint going nowhere tomorrow ( Thursday ) either! I Pray you have food and what you need to survive and that you think to go brush the ice off your hoods ( engines don't like being covered in freeze ) and to start your cars to jar that battery you'll need when it does end-and it will - just live it out and don't be mean to your house mates; cabin fever aint pretty for anyone! Be warm, God Bless!
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like that Ig~ person, whoever you are, you get it so, again, thanks !
      California Granny
      • 1 Year Ago
      Apparently the officials had no clue how to solve their dilemma. They sound as clueless as the mayor of New Orleans during Katrina mess. If the mayor of that place has no clue how to deal with a few inches of snow on their roads, he need a lesson of the first order how to, if their are next times. How in-effective can one get. Holy smokes, people had to sit in their cars hours on end. Has this man ever heard of sand on slick roads??? He needs boot in his butt to the nearest school of lessons as to how to do anything. It makes even my blood boil of his stupidity.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @California Granny
        I don't live in the City of Atlanta and I probably would not have voted for Kasim Reed if I did but in my opinion he has been good for Atlanta and is a good mayor. If you don't live here California don't judge. I wonder at the stupidity of people who choose to live in California too.
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't why the mayor and governor don't use the well tested liberal response-I didn't know anything about it until I read it in the paper".
      • 1 Year Ago
      WOA ! time to open a body shop near Atlanta ? I'll send parts from New York !
      • 1 Year Ago
      Type your comment hereThe Atlanta mayor and the state governor knew days prior that this storm was coming and the chances of snow in Atlanta was almost a certainty. But they failed miserably and the result was the same as 3 yrs. ago when the same thing happened. These two idiots along with the GA DOT are to be held responsible for this major screw up!!!
        • 1 Year Ago
        When they don't even own the equipment needed for this type of thing, what does a few days advanced warning do?
        • 1 Year Ago
        That's it ! always blame someone else Dick ! Yes it has to be someone else's fault ! I can't be responsible for taking care of myself and family ! blame the Governor, blame the mayor, blame the school principle, why don't you blame God ? Yes these folks had no idea this storm was coming ! NOT
      • 1 Year Ago
      maybe the people in the south should take a vacation up north in the winter to see what you have to do when the weather man says ice and snow are on the way
        • 1 Year Ago
        Yea that way it would only be like Illinois. I recently drove interstate 64 outr of St Louis after a snow storm. In the 72 miles to Mount Vernon Illinois I counted over 50 vehicles in the ditches. But you northern drivers are soooooo good at it.
          • 1 Year Ago
          Yeah and they were probably all people who had moved there from warm weather states who think that if you buy an SUV you are invulnerable.
      • 1 Year Ago
      It doesn't make any difference if they were caught off guard or whatever....the fact is that driving on ice is trecherous and it's hard for anyone! My prayers go out to all if the people who are trying to get through this. I'm from Washington state but have family all over the south and they are not stupid or dump as one of the remarks said...they are caring, loving people and when things get tough, they come together to help each other! I may be a Yankee, but I love the South!
      • 1 Year Ago
      come to Michigan
      • 1 Year Ago
      When major roadways have a possibility of being disabled they need to be closed until conditions have improved and the roads have been serviced, the key word here is closed to all but emergency traffic.
        • 1 Year Ago
      • 1 Year Ago
      It takes experience to know how to drive in snow so when it snows in areas that don't usually get snow there are bound to be a lot of accidents and some of them sadly can be fatal. This severe weather so far south is just an indication of the cyclical nature of weather which can be extremely volatile and dangerous at times. It's too bad that these accidents happen which is all the more reason to be cautious.
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