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Rush Hour From Hell’ Drags On In Icy Southern Cities

Tuesday in Atlanta, no one was going anywhere anytime soon. Many vehicles were still stuck on icy roads at dawn on Wednesday.

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Aired 1/29/14

By 4 a.m. ET Wednesday morning it was hour 16 of what had turned into a "rush hour from hell" in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution writes, as thousands of vehicles there and in other cities of the Deep South remained stuck on roads that were covered in snow and ice by a fast-moving storm that blew threw Tuesday.

That's worth repeating: Hour 16.

According to the Journal-Constitution:

"Traffic was still bumper-to-bumper and barely moving on several Atlanta interstates, including on I-75 north of downtown, on I-20 west of downtown and on the top-end Perimeter.

"Students remained stranded at schools early Wednesday, as commuters lucky enough to make their way to makeshift shelters began waking up in churches, fire houses and stores that remained open all night to provide a warm place to stay as temperatures plummeted into the teens."

NPR's Russell Lewis, who spent the night in the offices of WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., another city socked in by snow and ice, says meteorologists concede they made a huge mistake. A storm that they had said would hit hardest along the Gulf Coast left behind more ice and snow in parts of central Alabama and Georgia that had been expected.

Only a few inches may have fallen, but it came at just the wrong time and quickly overwhelmed highway crews who don't have the equipment and salt to deal with the effects of such a storm.

In some places, students and teachers were kept in their schools overnight -- sleeping on wrestling mats laid out in gyms and on carpets in classrooms. Home Depot stores in the Atlanta area opened their doors to stranded travelers.

Russell says Wednesday's front page of The Birmingham News sums up the situation pretty well: "CHAOS" it reads, over of cars and trucks stopped on snow-covered highway.

As our public broadcasting colleagues and other news outlets from across the region report, officials have declared states of emergency and/or urged people to stay off the roads in:

-- Alabama

-- Georgia

-- Louisiana

-- Mississippi

The good news, the National Weather Service says, is that "snow, sleet and ice will begin to wind down across the southeast U.S. on Wednesday."

But other parts of the East are now feeling the storm's effects. In North Carolina, for instance, "Charlotte-area residents are awakening to icy road conditions Wednesday morning, in the wake of a winter storm that left 1 to 2 inches of snow across the region," writes the Observer.

A little to the north, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Virginia State Police troopers have responded to 250 calls for service since 3 p.m. Tuesday in the region including the Richmond area, a spokesman said this morning. The total includes 78 crashes, mostly involving property damage, and 73 disabled vehicles."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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