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Rare Arctic blast paralyzes southern communities ill-equipped for snow and ice

January 29, 2014 at 6:23 PM EST
Georgia snow

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We lead off with the winter storm that has wreaked havoc across much of the South for the past 24 hours.

Jeffrey Brown has been looking into what happened.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was just a few inches of snow, but it triggered utter chaos. All around Atlanta, thousands of people got stranded overnight in a mass exodus to get home early. Countless wrecks, including jack-knifed trucks, ground traffic to a halt in icy gridlock. Hundreds of students spent the night on school buses.

Ray Henry of the Associated Press in Atlanta says others faced their own unique dilemmas because of the weather conditions. We spoke this afternoon via Skype.

RAY HENRY, Associated Press: One woman actually ended up giving birth, was en route to a hospital, basically got stuck on an interstate and delivered a healthy child. So, that’s very good.

Other people were running out of gas after sitting in traffic that was basically just stalled for six, seven hours. Several people needed to — or many people needed to be picked up by National Guard Humvees and brought into sort of warming stations or shelters. It’s pretty messy out there.

JEFFREY BROWN: And some people took to social media, including this snowed-out Atlanta Facebook page, to offer and request supplies and shelter.

RAY HENRY: It seems like a lot of useful info was communicated. People were able to get tips about warming shelters. Local churches were advertising that they were opening their doors along routes. People were even advertising, hey, I got a house near the highway and some guest bedrooms, and people are welcome to come stay.

Some people were even talking about shuttling to gas to those had just basically run out to kind of keep them going. It was interesting to watch. It seems like at least in some parts it was effective.

JEFFREY BROWN: McKenzie Dunn was one of those stranded.

MCKENZIE DUNN, stranded motorist: I don’t think they were prepared for it, which kind of irks me, because it happened two years ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: It didn’t help that Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, had tweeted yesterday morning that his city was ready for the storm.

MAYOR KASIM REED, D-Atlanta: We’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Reed defended the snow response, but also offered something of a mea culpa.

KASIM REED: And 120 pieces of state equipment have been mobilized. The National Guard has been mobilized. The city of Atlanta has been running 12-hour shifts. We have been running our spreaders and sanders nonstop.

The issue is — and people are going to stop feeling frustration when we get people out of cars on the interstates. And I will take credit for — I will take credit or blame for my statement. We made a mistake by not staggering when people should leave. So I will take responsibility for that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said the state didn’t deploy its trucks and plows earlier because it wasn’t clear where the snow was going.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL R-Ga.: The National Weather Service had continually had their modeling showing that the city of Atlanta wouldn’t be the primary area where the storm would hit, that it would be south of Atlanta. I don’t blame anyone. Mother Nature has a mind of its own, and it does what it chooses to do.

And even with the best of forecasting, I don’t think anyone could have totally predicted that was going to have the magnitude within the short window of time in which it occurred.

JEFFREY BROWN: All of the children stuck on school buses were rescued by this afternoon. Others had hunkered down last night in their schools, and officials spent the day trying to get them home safely.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL: We are having the National Guard and the state troopers working, and the National Guard will provide lead vehicles as the school buses make their routes to return those children back to their homes.

JEFFREY BROWN: The A.P.’s Ray Henry says private citizens have also pitched in.

RAY HENRY: The storms also brought out some good sides of people.

For example, Home Depot stores regionally had basically just opened their doors for people stuck on the interstate. There are a lot of stories about people helping out one another, for example, opening up homes, guest bedrooms to people who were stuck. One person that the staff interviewed today basically had his own private Humvee and was making sort of runs to pick up people who were stranded on the interstate. So there has definitely been some testiness, but there’s also sort of been some Southern graciousness.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ice and snow also made for treacherous travel in Central Alabama, where more stalled and abandoned vehicles littered the highways.

YOLANDA SMILEY, stranded motorist: We ended up coming down here.

MAN: And we don’t have no way home,

YOLANDA SMILEY: No way home. Yellow Cab won’t come and get us, so we’re hoping that my brother-in-law can make it and come and get us. And they need to put some sand and some salt on these streets.

JEFFREY BROWN: Overall, emergencies were declared in six states to help expedite much-needed crews and supplies for extensive cleanup efforts.

MAN: I hope this is over with soon. I have had enough winter.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was hope for a bit of a respite. Forecasters said temperatures in the South will gradually warm in the days ahead.