ATLANTA — 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.
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.
The result was gridlock on freeways that are jammed even on normal days. Countless vehicles were stranded and many of them abandoned.
Georgia State Patrol officials said two traffic fatalities had been reported in counties outside of 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.
One woman’s 12-mile commute home took 16 hours. Another woman gave birth while stuck in traffic; police arrived just in time to help. Drivers who gave up trying to get home took shelter at fire stations, churches and grocery stores.