Atlanta, the Day After

by | January 20, 2014 AT 6:05 PM

By John M. Glionna

Troopers and police in Atlanta on Thursday were escorting motorists back to hundreds of vehicles that were abandoned along the region's interstate system after a rare winter storm paralyzed the city in a freezing traffic gridlock that still has residents in recovery. Across town, it was a case of "Dude, where's my car?"

Officials warned that it was not yet completely safe to head back out onto the roads: subfreezing overnight temperatures dipped into the teens, leaving ice-covered roads. Schools and many offices throughout the storm-racked region remained closed Thursday.

Although it was just a dusting of snow 36 hours ago, the icy conditions caused massive traffic jams in a region ill-prepared for such weather conditions. Trucks jackknifed. Thousands of children were held at school Tuesday night because their parents could not reach them, some others were stuck in school buses in the storm. At the peak of the traffic standstill, many frustrated motorists left their cars roadside and simply walked home.

Freezing weather across the Southern states led to more than 5,000 flight cancellations and delays, officials say. The Georgia State Patrol reported more than 1,460 traffic accidents between Tuesday morning and Wednesday night, including more than 175 injuries.

Atlanta awoke Thursday to a scene where abandoned cars and trucks littered the freeways. Gov. Nathan Deal said emergency workers and other authorities would use four-wheel drive-vehicles to help drivers recover their vehicles and provide them with gas to get home. Officials also created a database to help residents locate cars that had been towed to impound lots.

"Drivers will be transported to their vehicles by official personnel in a four-wheel-drive," an official announcement said. "Fuel is available for vehicles that ran out of gas, as well as the capacity to jump a dead battery."

There were countless stories of Good Samaritans. One man who owns a helicopter transported a stranded couple back to their home Wednesday and then flew to pick up their child from a school. News reports also told of people walking the highways with water and cookies for motorists stranded inside their cars.

Facing criticism for the poor response to the storm, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed took to the defensive on Thursday.

Speaking on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning, Reed said many of the news images of freeways littered with abandoned cars were not in the city but in the surrounding region. He said the city doesn't have jurisdiction on those freeways and said most streets in Atlanta itself were now passable.

Deal told reporters: "We don't want to be accused of crying wolf. Because if we had been wrong, y'all would have all been in here saying, 'Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?'"

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