School rescues, sleeping in cars among storm tales
- Article by: RUSS BYNUM
- Associated Press
- January 29, 2014 - 7:25 PM
They crept through traffic that makes an ordinary Atlanta rush hour feel like a drag race, trudged home through ice and snow while watching cars skid and slide through intersections and spent the night taking care of young children stranded at school. Some even slept in their cars.
The winter storm that blasted Georgia and Alabama on Tuesday caught many people behind the wheel, at work or at school before they could make it home. Getting through it would test their patience, their endurance and perhaps even their character.
Here are the stories of a few who braved the cold that virtually shut down the South.
Jessica Troy's commute home from work took more than half a day. She described it as driving a slow-motion obstacle course on sheets of ice.
On Interstate 285 that circles Atlanta's perimeter, drivers Tuesday evening had to veer around cars abandoned in traffic and tractor-trailers skidded on the ice and wound up blocking multiple lanes. And everything seemed to move at the slowest pace imaginable.
"We literally would go 5 feet and sit for two hours," Troy said after she and a co-worker who rode with her finally made it home just after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
They spent more than 16 hours in the car together. Their total trip was about 12 miles.
Troy said they left the advertising agency where they work at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Roads were still clogged with drivers who tried to rush home after lunch as the ice storm hit.
The standstill traffic gave Troy plenty of time to call her parents and send text messages to friends, letting them know she was OK. By 3 a.m. her car was stuck on a freeway entrance ramp. She put it in park, left the heat running and tried to get some sleep.
"I slept for an hour and it was not comfortable," Troy said. "Most people sat the entire night with no food, no water, no bathroom. We saw people who had children. It was a dire situation."
After daybreak a few good Samaritans appeared, going car-to-car and handing out bottles of water and cookies. Traffic started moving again at about 8:30. The rest of the trip took about two hours.
Troy had enough time to shower, eat and grab an hourlong nap before starting her workday Wednesday morning. Fortunately, she was able to telecommute on her laptop.
"I jumped back into working," she said. "But I was so glad to be home, I don't even care."
DeKalb County police had their hands full as the winter storm hit metro Atlanta, with seemingly nonstop 911 calls coming in from drivers stuck on icy roads and reports of crashes. So when word came that students were stranded at Peachtree Middle School because driving conditions were too hazardous for their parents to get them, police Chief Cedric Alexander dispatched himself to give some of them a ride home.
Alexander said he had four children pile into his truck, as many as he could safely carry. Then he pulled onto Interstate 285, a typically busy commuter route where bumper-to-bumper traffic now inched along over treacherous patches of ice.
It took three hours. But the chief personally saw each of the young students safely home to their families. Alexander said the looks of relief he saw on the faces of parents at their front doors told him he'd made the right call.
"I just felt that it was the right thing to do even though I had oversight of this whole county and public safety," Alexander said. "I just knew I couldn't leave those kids there."
The snow and ice caused classes to be dismissed early at Roswell High School outside Atlanta. But 15-year-old Camden Donahoe got tired of waiting as students spent hours in the school gym biding their time until buses navigating the slippery roads could pick them up to go home.
So Camden and a friend who normally takes the same bus struck out on foot through the snow.
"We figured our parents would be less worried if we just walked," Camden said.
The teenagers hiked for several miles through bitter cold. But they seemed to be faring better than many who were trying to make it home by car.
"It was pretty bad out, the roads were really icy," Camden said. "Cars were spinning out at one of the big intersections we went to."
He made it home in about an hour with his hooded sweater, blue jeans and tennis shoes all wet. Camden figured he beat the school bus. He walked the same route the bus always takes, but never saw it drive past him.
In Alabama, Republican state Rep. Mack Butler of Rainbow City spent Tuesday night sleeping in his truck at a gas station off Interstate 459 in Birmingham. Butler said he was headed to Montgomery for a meeting of the Alabama House, but he gave up on what is normally a two-hour trip south because interstate highways became impassable with ice and hundreds of wrecked and abandoned vehicles.
"It looked like the zombie apocalypse," he said.
Butler said he had plenty of company at the gas station. "The whole lot was full of people. It was really a safe, secure refuge where you saw signs of life," he said.
Butler's troubles were shared by other legislators. Only 40 of the 102 House members showed up Tuesday afternoon, which was too few to meet. The House canceled Wednesday's meeting and will try again Thursday when warmer temperatures are expected to melt the ice on highways.
Peachtree Road in Atlanta is normally bustling during rush hour. Not Wednesday morning, as ice still clung to the road. The few drivers who were commuting to work inched cautiously through traffic lights. Others decided to walk to work.
Rob Syverston, on the other hand, made the 20-mile trip from his home in the northern suburbs to downtown Atlanta on his four-wheel all-terrain vehicle. He was giving his neighbor, a surgical nurse, a lift to work at Piedmont Hospital.
"Her group had heart surgery this morning," Syverston said. "They had a lot of work to do on a patient."
Syverston dropped his neighbor off at the hospital and grabbed some breakfast before heading home.
Syverston and a friend who also rides an ATV had been trying to help out as best they could since the storm hit. He said they had spent up to eight hours Monday assisting stranded drivers and helping salt roads near their homes.
"It's been that kind of a day," he said.
Mike Styles was headed to Atlanta from his home in suburban Acworth when snow started falling Tuesday. Recalling the last winter storm that paralyzed the city in 2011, he didn't like the way things looked.
But he by no means took the day off. A school bus got into a wreck near his home, so Styles hopped in his Hummer and helped give rides to the children on board. Then he helped some friends get their own children home.
By sundown he was giving rides home to stranded strangers, and kept that up until about 2 a.m. Wednesday. After catching a few hours of sleep, Styles hit the road again by 8 a.m. to bring snacks, water and diapers to stranded motorists. As blogs and Facebook groups for stranded motorists popped up, he coordinated efforts to help them as a friend of his drove. Styles estimated Wednesday he had taken about 25 people home and had arranged help for a couple dozen more.
"As long as you take it slow and you're not stupid, you're not speeding around, it's really not too bad," said Styles, a 37-year-old New York native.
At Deer Valley Elementary School in Hoover, Ala., second-grade teacher Lindsey Calton Nichols and her co-workers cared for 200 students overnight because the roads were too icy for school buses to travel. They watched movies, slept on gym mats with coats for blankets, and ate sausage biscuits and fresh strawberries for breakfast.
"There were no tears," Nichols said. "The kids were actually having lots of fun."
Volunteers with four-wheel drive trucks carried students home throughout the night and morning. Her husband spent the night with their 2-year-old son at a nearby child care center. A volunteer they had never met gave them a ride home around 11 a.m. Wednesday, along with the last student Nichols had left in her class.
Lisa Nadir left her job just north of Atlanta at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, hoping to make the drive home to Acworth before nightfall. Her 35-mile commute usually takes about 45 minutes.
Twelve hours later, at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, an exhausted Nadir pulled into a grocery store parking lot and tried to sleep. She was just 15 miles from where she started. After a mostly sleepless night, she walked into a nearby Waffle House restaurant.
"There's a good Samaritan at the Waffle House who has every kind of phone charger imaginable and he's letting people use them," Nadir said.
By midday Wednesday, a crowd of about 60 people had gathered at the Waffle House. Some ate. Others just looked out at the streets coated with a glassy layer of ice.
Bruce Forbes traveled from Alberta, Canada, for a weeklong convention on animal proteins in downtown Atlanta. Seeing how locals reacted to a couple of inches of snow baffled him.
"It was astounding to me that that little amount of snow can shut everything down," he said.
Forbes left the convention center Tuesday afternoon and walked to a taxi stand where about 20 others were waiting. When he finally got into a cab about half an hour later, it took nearly two hours to get to his midtown hotel 3 miles away. The cab driver told Forbes he'd only seen snow once before.
"I offered to drive because I figured it might be safer, since I'm used to it," Forbes said.
The driver declined his offer.
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