Cars sit stranded on an icy road in Hoover, a suburb of
Birmingham, Alabama. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
Icy chaos has gripped the US South after a rare winter
storm that killed at least six people, stranded children in
their schools overnight and paralyzed travel in several states,
including hundreds of flight cancellations at the world's
The storm slammed a region largely unaccustomed to ice and
snow - stretching from Texas through Georgia and into the
Carolinas on Tuesday and early Wednesday (local time).
In Atlanta, motorists remained trapped in their cars on icy
Interstates on Wednesday, some of them having spent as long
as 18 hours on the road.
Some 791 traffic accidents were reported in the city but
there were no serious injuries, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said
in a Wednesday news conference, adding that the focus was now
on rescuing stranded motorists.
"We're going to get those people out of their cars," he said.
At least five deaths in Alabama and one in Georgia were
blamed on the storm.
Airlines canceled thousands of flights at airports from
Houston to Atlanta, with some 500 halted early Wednesday
alone at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport, the world's busiest.
"We are all in this together and we will get through it
together," read a statement from police in Anniston, Alabama.
"What was to be a simple dusting (of snow) has turned into
something more. None of us were prepared."
Forecasters predicted little relief on Wednesday, with
temperatures unlikely to rise much above freezing for long
enough to thaw ice-covered roads and bridges, before dipping
below freezing again early Thursday across the Southeast.
Precipitation was expected to ease later in the morning, and
the wintry mix of snow, sleet and ice had moved farther to
the East Coast on Wednesday from Georgia up through Maryland,
where motorists were warned off the roads and schools were
being closed or delayed.
A Facebook page called "Stranded Motorists Help Jan 28, 2014"
which has 9,600 members, already had amassed entries from
stranded motorists and volunteers trying to help them after
an 18-hour gridlock continued to paralyze the Atlanta metro
Echo Garrett of Atlanta said a good friend of hers remained
marooned on I-285 Wednesday.
"She's almost out of cell phone battery, no water, no food.
No rescue vehicles," Garrett said in a message to Reuters.
Businesses and government in Atlanta, where 1 million people
work, dismissed employees all at once early Tuesday
afternoon, Reed said, causing the traffic crush.
"It hampered our ability to get our equipment on the ground,"
Reed said. "If there was one lesson learned in the middle of
this challenge, that would be that we need to stagger
closings from private sector companies, the government and
the school system."
Atlanta school officials said on CNN that forecasts
"drastically changed" after students had already been
instructed to come to class.
In Birmingham, Alabama, authorities said a lack of warning
about the severity of the ice led to thousands being stuck on
roads, in shelters and in schools, with snow clearing
vehicles having been initially directed south of the city
where the ice was expected to hit.
"We proceeded to have school and have people go to their
jobs," Mayor William Bell said. "When it came, it was too
The roads and Interstates there had begun to clear later
Wednesday morning in Birmingham, with no injuries reported
and no additional stranded motorists, police said.
Sections of major roadways remained closed in Louisiana near
New Orleans, including the 24-mile Causeway Bridge spanning
As the ice began to clear in Louisiana, some airlines resumed
limited service Wednesday at Louis Armstrong New Orleans
International Airport after about 24 hours of canceled
Authorities rescued about 50 school children in Atlanta,
whose buses were stranded overnight on an icy roadway,
district officials said. Hundreds of other students remained
sheltered in schools and other locations.
"We're feeding them, we're watching movies, eating pizza,"
Principal Matt Rogers of E. Rivers Elementary said of the 95
students staying there. "It's like a sleepover."
In Birmingham, about 800 students remained safe and fed in
their schools early Wednesday, Bell said.
"We realize that is not good enough for parents who want to
hold their children in their arms," Bell said. "We are doing
all we can to reunite children with their parents."