independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Winter storm cripples Deep South

People work to clear stranded vehicles in Wilsonville, Alabama, as a rare snowstorm gridlocked America's South (AP)

A rare snowstorm has left thousands in America's Deep South frozen in their tracks with schoolchildren having to camp out with teachers on buses and commuters abandoning cars to seek shelter in churches, fire stations and even grocery stores.

There was barely snow enough to qualify as a storm in the north of the US; yet it was more than enough to paralyse cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and strand thousands of workers who tried to rush home early only to never make it at all.

Georgia governor Nathan Deal said early that the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto Atlanta's blocked roads in an attempt to move stranded school buses and get food and water to people. Georgia State Patrol troopers headed to schools where children had spent the night, and workers continued to treat roads and take petrol to motorists.

Around Atlanta nearly all public entities and most businesses were shut down early on Wednesday. Officials encouraged people not to drive. City buses were not running, and some commuters who opted for rail service met new frustrations as they stood on platforms awaiting trains into the city centre.

Overnight, the South saw fatal crashes and hundreds of minor accidents. Ice shut down bridges on Florida's panhandle and Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the world's longest spans.

Some commuters pleaded for help via mobile phones while still holed up in their cars, while others trudged miles home, abandoning their vehicles outright.

Atlanta, hub to major corporations and the world's busiest airport, once again found itself unprepared to deal with the chaos - despite assurances that city officials had learned their lessons from a 2011 ice storm that brought the city to its knees.

Georgia leaders seem aware of public anger over the lack of preparation. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said staff were working to grit roads.

-AP

Press Association

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