Icebound US South gets relief

January 31, 2014 - 6:23:11 am

Abandoned vehicles line the Cumberland Boulevard exit ramp along I-75 North in Atlanta, Georgia, yesterday. The roads have thawed after the winter storm and owners are beginning to recover their cars.

ATLANTA: Politicians faced a barrage of criticism for mishandling a rare ice storm that swept across the US South, killing at least nine people and paralysing roads in Atlanta, where warmer weather was expected to bring some relief. 

Atlanta commuters stranded on slick highways for up to 24 hours and parents of children trapped in schools overnight criticised elected leaders for allowing 5cm of snow to bring city roads to a standstill. 

“I am a disappointed parent and taxpayer,” said Stacy Shipman, 43, a corporate trainer in Atlanta. “Someone should have prepared the city for what a mass exodus of 1.2 million people would do to our travels.” Officials in both political parties faced pointed questions about poor planning in the metropolitan area that is home to more than 5 million people and heavily reliant on car travel to reach its crowded suburbs.

As the storm on Tuesday rolled over a region of about 60 million people unaccustomed to driving in ice and snow, traffic froze for miles. Thousands of motorists found themselves stuck in nightmarish commutes as schools, businesses and government offices sent everyone home around the same time.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican running for re-election this year, angered many — including local meteorologists — when he described the storm late Tuesday as “unexpected.” 

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat who easily won a second term last fall, was mocked for his Tweet on Tuesday that said: “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.”  In interviews yesterday, Reed said government and school leaders shared responsibility for the errors, but pointed out that roads within Atlanta city limits were quickly cleaned up. 

“The streets in the city of Atlanta are clear,” he told NBC’s “Today” show, adding that Atlanta officials did not have jurisdiction over state highways in the area. 

The governor also focused on progress, saying all of Atlanta’s school children had been safely returned to their families by Wednesday evening, with help from the National Guard and State Patrol. But a challenger for the Republican nomination for governor criticised Deal’s leadership.

Schools and government offices remained closed yesterdayin Atlanta. Early yesterda, it was an unseasonably cold at -9 C. But temperatures were expected to climb to 2 to 4 Celsius in Georgia and would get gradually warmer into the weekend, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Corfidi. Other parts of the storm-affected Southeast are also expected to warm up.

“Certainly, the worst is over,” Corfidi said. The deadly storm stretched from Texas, through Georgia and into the Carolinas. At least five fatalities in Alabama, two in Georgia, one in Mississippi and two in North Carolina were blamed on the weather.  Emergency officials responded to hundreds of traffic accidents across the region, and thousands of US flights were cancelled or delayed.

In Alabama, the weather forced some 11,300 students to spend the night at their schools on Tuesday, a state education department spokesman said.Reuters

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