WASHINGTON – The usually balmy U.S. South was paralyzed Wednesday by a freak snowstorm that forced thousands of children to shelter in schools overnight and left hundreds of thousands of motorists stranded on area roads.
Schools were closed in towns and cities across the region as authorities struggled to shake off Tuesday’s snowfall and freezing temperatures.
Emergency declarations were issued in several states as a result of wintry conditions as far south as Texas and affecting Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and other states famous as havens from the Northern winter.
Temperatures in Atlanta fell to minus 10 degrees, the coldest in memory for many residents.
Traffic was still snarled in many places Wednesday, more than 24 hours after backups began forming. Thousands of desperate motorists ditched their cars to seek shelter at roadside shops and convenience stores, where they slept on floors overnight.
Hundreds of traffic accidents clogged highways around the region Tuesday, some involving lumbering yellow school buses that were unable to retrieve students at the end of the school day.
Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia — where officials said the storm caused at least one death — on Wednesday expressed his gratitude to school staff who stayed with students overnight.
Less fortunate were children whose drivers succeeded in getting them onto the buses, only to become stuck on roads for hours during the ride from school.
Only about 5 to 8 cm of snow fell in Atlanta on Tuesday, with similar amounts around the region. But that was enough to create hazardous road conditions for local residents not used to driving on it. Compounding the problem was that many roads had not been pretreated with sand and salt to make them more navigable.
The snowfall also was heaviest as schools were letting out for the day, and as workers were fleeing downtown offices.
State police and national guard officials said they were working Wednesday to clear travel lanes and reunite stranded schoolchildren with their families.