A rare winter storm slammed the Southern region of the United States Tuesday and Wednesday, causing numerous school closings, leaving thousands stranded on highways and in airports, and contributing to at least a dozen deaths.
As much as 3 inches of snow fell on parts of the South. Atlanta was particularly hard hit, but relatively warm cities like New Orleans, which hasn’t had a snowfall in over eight years, escaped the brunt of the icy weather.
Bridges and overpasses in New Orleans were closed, but travel around the city was still possible for many. Former Grambling resident Carolyn Crear was not so fortunate. She was among the employees at Tulane Medical Center who had to sleep on cots because they couldn’t leave work. “I punched in at 11:30 Tuesday morning, and punched out at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday,” Crear said, adding that she got only four hours of sleep.
GSU alumna Ciara Davis, who lives in Atlanta, says she has been stuck in her house for almost two days. But others experienced something quite different. “I have friends who were stuck on the highway for 14 hours.” She was not caught in the gridlock because she lives only minutes from her job.
“Even when the snow and ice melts, because people abandoned cars on the road, they have to be removed before traffic can return to normal,” said the spring 2012 graduate.
She commended stores like Target, Home Depot and Lowe’s for opening up to provide shelter to many who were stranded.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed admitted the city could have directed schools, businesses and government offices to stagger their closings on Tuesday afternoon, as the storm began, rather than dismissing everyone at the same time. That is what created the gridlock on freeways that are jammed even on normal days.
Georgia State Patrol officials said two traffic fatalities had been reported in counties outside Atlanta. State troopers also responded to more than 1,460 crashes between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening and said more than 175 injuries had been reported.
Officials said 239 children spent Tuesday night aboard school buses; thousands of others stayed overnight in their schools.
Other states in the South also suffered through the weather. Amid freezing temperatures in Mississippi, four people – including two small children – died in a mobile home fire blamed on a faulty space heater. In Alabama, state troopers said five people were killed in traffic accidents that may have been weather-related, and in South Carolina, the Highway Patrol responded to more than 800 collisions statewide between 4 p.m. Tuesday and 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Ice had closed more than 20 highways in Louisiana, but parts of interstates 10 and 12 that had been closed since Tuesday were reopened Wednesday night. Road conditions prompted the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to postpone its Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony from Wednesday to Thursday night.
Brittney Scales, a GSU alumna who returned to New Orleans after graduation, talked about her experience with the cold weather in Grambling and her hometown.
“It doesn’t get as cold here (in New Orleans), but when it’s cold, it’s definitely cold.”
She said she depends on weather updates online and on TV to know what precautions she needs to take and what she might need to stock up on in a weather emergency.