If Tuesday is to be known as Snow Jam 2014, then Thursday was The Great Retrieval. People toted gas cans, attached jumper cables or ganged up to shove stubbornly stuck cars.
There is no way of knowing the number of vehicles left behind at some point, although it was surely in the thousands. Removing the vehicles was vital to allow road crews through to spread salt or tow trucks to remove cars that can’t move on their own, or where the owners have not yet returned.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said the state imposed a 9 p.m. Thursday night deadline for cars to be cleared off interstates. Any still in emergency lanes after that would be towed.
Thursday morning, National Guardsmen ferried stranded motorists to their vehicles from a couple staging areas, with state HERO units aiding if the cars would not start. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter following the Guardsmen and then driving along I-75 found two pregnant woman retrieving abandoned cars, and encountered a grandmother who’d spent 13 hours on the Interstate with her 4-year-old granddaughter. Six of those hours were after running out of gas and growing increasingly cold.
“I was falling apart,” Debbie Barth, of Woodstock, recounted after retrieving her Chevy Malibu. “She was excited; it was an adventure for her.”
Barth broke into tears outside a state staging station in Buckhead describing how she watched more than half a tank of gas burn away as she got near the Mt. Paran Road exit. She was finally rescued by state patrol troopers just before dawn Wednesday.
David Hair, a South Carolina businessman, returned to a stretch of Northside Drive where he’d wound up Tuesday night after his his GPS rerouted him off I-75. The unfamiliar course brought him to a steep, ice-packed road that acted like a toboggan shoot for hapless drivers — several who were from out-of-state and equally lost. On Thursday morning, some 30 cars blocked that still-icy stretch of road, 13 of them — including Hair’s — fused together because of a chain reaction wreck.
Hair got reacquainted with Buckhead resident Tom Garrett, who’d been playing Good Samaritan Tuesday night, shuttling families up Northside Drive past a row of abandoned vehicles when his Jeep spun sideways. Garrett got out to figure out how to extricate himself when he glanced up the frozen hill to see Hair’s Acura bearing down on his Jeep.
“I saw him sliding all the way down the hill,” Garrett said with a chuckle as he inspected the crush of vehicles Thursday.
“It was in slow motion,” said Hair recounting the moments before collision. “I was like, ‘Ohhh crap.’ “
Such scenes remained hazardous Thursday. As rescue crews walked over to the car, a pregnant woman standing next to her nearby vehicle fell heavily on the ice and then a media photographer did the same, causing him to be treated by EMTs.
On the metro area’s south side, Sunnie Carmichael, 29, left her car near Langford Parkway and I-285 after being stuck 15 hours and hiked to a co-worker’s home Tuesday night. On Thursday, her car was gone. They figured it must have been towed and headed to the West Lake MARTA station where National Guard and other state officials tried to help drivers figure out where cars were towed.
Barbara Irby, owner of Sosebee’s Wrecker Service, a small, family-owned company in Hapeville, said 8 of her 10 drivers had worked since early Wednesday morning, when Sosebee’s got its first call for help from the state patrol. The other two drivers were stuck in traffic for at least 9 hours en route to helping stuck motorists.
“We towed more than 500 cars out of the road and onto the shoulders,” she said.
People retrieving cars debated the cause of the mess. Ensie “Coach” Longino spent a fretful night at home after his wife, Dulcy, got stranded near Bolton Road and I-285, trying to make it home Tuesday from Marietta to her home home west of the city.
Longino blamed bad preparation by public officials.
“You can’t blame the meteorologists — they told you it was coming,” he said. “The biggest thing that got to me is that all these people were out there and nobody seemed to care. They don’t have any food and you have all these women who have to go to the restroom.”
But Thursday also saw scenes of Atlantans helping each other.
Along I-75 near I-285, Karen Hurst, a manager at the Homewood Suites hotel, carried a can of gas to help motorist Ann Batson, who ran out of fuel and ended up in Hurst’s lobby early Wednesday morning. Hurst poured the gas in the vehicle but it would not start.
One abandoned vehicle away, Kevin Krehmeyer offered jumper cables. Krehmeyer was there to rescue the Jeep his wife, Elaine, who is pregnant with twins, left on the highway Tuesday.
“It’s amazing how this has brought the city together,” said Mr. Krehmeyer, who himself spent Tuesday night in a Lowe’s parking lot in Sandy Springs. “This was all surreal.”