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Metro Atlanta’s frozen chaos leaves students stranded overnight

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Winter Storm 2014 resulted in more than three thousand Metro Atlanta students spending the night at their schools and other locations on Tuesday evening. Makeshift shelters, fire stations, schools building, homes and businesses all opened to weary, cold travelers trying to get home.

Students were forced to join the many thousands of people trapped on cold Metro Atlanta’s highways for hours without food and conveniences. A number of those students remained at their schools for almost another full school day. Governor Nathan Deal announced Wednesday evening that all Metro Atlanta student stranded on Tuesday, have been returned to their homes safely. As well all Metro Schools will be closed on Thursday.

In a Wednesday press conference, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the one mistake made, that could have cut the traffic nightmare short, was not staggering the release time for people to leave school and work. If there could be do over, Reed said, “I would have called for the students to be released first, then the businesses, and finally the government employees”. Reed also said that while the city can make recommendations it cannot tell another government agency what to do.

The Atlanta Public School System was among the districts deciding to open schools to students and staff on Tuesday morning. Winter weather warning were released as early as before day Tuesday morning. Many people say late dismissal and opening schools altogether was a bad idea.

Parents of Fulton County School students and APS parents are very upset as last minute calls to pick up their children, and bus release times resulted in their young children and teens been forced to spend such a dangerous night away from family. Many parents spent hours on the roads trying to reach their children Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Among the press conference occurring Wednesday, Mayor Reed was joined by Atlanta Police and Fire Rescue to talk about how the city successfully collaborated with the Georgia National Guard, and Georgia State Patrol to safely transport students to schools who were stranded on the highways Tuesday night, and by mid-morning began the process of getting students home.

About 1500 Atlanta Public Schools students were stuck on the roads around 9 P.M. Tuesday.

A total of eight Atlanta schools were open overnight to give students a warm and a safe place to stay. Atlanta Police Chief, George Turner also said law enforcement officers were stationed at each Atlanta schools maintaining a safe environment.

North Atlanta High School sheltered the most Atlanta students at about 400.

Among the other schools with overnight guests included Paulding County School where about 400 students slept in the school’s gym and auditorium.

The superintendent for Fulton County Schools, Dr. Robert Avossa told ABC News, "We have had students, unfortunately, stuck on buses all night. The National Guard and other state and local officials have been helping us escort buses out of those situations." The district had 90 buses stuck at midnight and as of 7:30 Wednesday morning a handful of buses were still trapped on the roads. Reportedly all students have been removed for stranded buses in Fulton County by Wednesday morning.

There were more than 600 students in Marietta, Cobb County schools overnight.

Douglas County provided shelter for nearly 8 to 9 hundred students in 23 school, by mid- morning on 220 were left to be transported home.

DeKalb County Schools fared better than most districts that decided to open schools on Tuesday. Only 6 students were reportedly stranded from home and spent the night at a police precinct.

According to the Cherokee County Schools website, as of 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, several hundred students who had been sheltered overnight at Cherokee County schools had been reunited with their families.

These two days are being called the frozen gridlock, with temperatures struggling to get anywhere near above freezing on Wednesday. Some temps in the single digits at the coldest point before sunlight Tuesday morning. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among the many news outlets explain how the dangerous icy conditions rapidly turned worst Tuesday afternoon.

Many drivers spent more than 20 hours stuck in their cars on already busy highways like I-285 and I-75.

Here is the question? While a winter weather warning were in place, many people in decision making positions, took a wait and see attitude and when the release button was pressed, it was too late. Parents, buses, employees and everybody hit the roads at the same time. All of this created the frozen gridlock that trapped thousands of people in an icy mess.

Georgia’s first responders and Department of Transportation worked hard to treat roads and help motorist, but in a lot of cases could not provide the emergency services needed so quickly because of blocked and icy roads.

As of Wednesday, authorities reported there were 1254 accidents, with two weather related deaths.

When all the rescues are completed and the roads are safe again. State and local leaders will take the lessons learned during Winter Storm 2014 and develop a practical way to make sure students and motorist never experience this chaos again.

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