ATLANTA (AP/WAVY) — Thousands of Atlanta students stranded all night long in their schools were reunited with their parents Wednesday, while rescuers rushed to deliver blankets, food, gas and a ride home to countless shivering motorists stopped cold by a storm that paralyzed the business capital of the South with less than 3 inches of snow.
Carol Klass moved to the Atlanta area four months ago from Virginia Beach. She told WAVY.com she got stuck in the traffic catastrophe after leaving her job Tuesday night. She ended up spending the night at her twin sons’ school, Westlake High.
“Buses were still coming in when I got there between 7 and 8 p.m.,” she said. “I thought it was a horrible idea because of what I’d seen heading in the opposite direction. I said, ‘well maybe the bus drivers know something I don’t know.’ Nevertheless, those kids returned back to the school at like 6 a.m. this morning, we had about four buses out of seven that brought children back, with the help of the local fire department and National Guard.”
Klass said some students even got off the buses that were stuck in traffic and walked two miles back to school, but said she’s grateful they had a place to stay.
“It was just heartbreaking that we couldn’t get home and be comfortable, but then again, we were safer than other people who were stuck in cars, like my sister who was stuck in her car from 2 p.m. ’til midnight and didn’t reach home ’til 3 a.m.,” Klass said. “At least we were in a dry, safe environment.”
As National Guardsmen and state troopers fanned out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal found themselves on the defensive, acknowledging the storm preparations could have been better. But Deal also blamed forecasters, saying he was led to believe it wouldn’t be so bad.
The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.
Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.
The mayor 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.