Blame Game Heating Up in Frigid Atlanta

10:42 AM, Jan 30, 2014   |    comments
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Cars sit on the side of Interstate 75 in icy conditions January 29, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Scott Cunninghaml/Getty Images)

Don Buckindail, Larry Copeland and John Bacon, USA TODAY

ATLANTA - The city began to emerge from an icy, two-day gridlock Thursday, but it was the blame game that was really heating up.

The Arctic blast crippling much of the Deep South has caused at least 13 deaths and created havoc for millions, prompting six states to declare emergencies. Nowhere have the problems been more severe than in the Atlanta area, where residents awoke Thursday to temperatures in the teens.

Mayor Kasim Reed, who on Wednesday promised not to play the "blame game," appeared on NBC's Today show Thursday and was quick to point out that the jammed roads NBC showed on the telecast, and earlier this week, are not in the city of Atlanta. The city does not have jurisdiction for the interstates that run through Atlanta, Reed said.

He said he ordered all Atlanta streets pretreated by 9 a.m. Tuesday The storm hit after lunchtime. "If the cameras had focused on city limits, they would have seen that 80% were passable," Reed told host Matt Lauer.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday had blamed the National Weather Service, saying it "continually had modeling showing Atlanta would not be the primary area (of the storm). It would be south of Atlanta."

Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist with the University of Georgia and president of the American Meteorological Society, said neither meteorologists nor the forecast for the Atlanta area was to blame.

At 3:39 a.m. Tuesday, Marshall said the weather service issued a winter storm warning for the entire Atlanta metro area, expecting 1-2 inches of snow. "Overall, the Atlanta event was a well-forecasted and well-warned event," he said.

Reed told Lauer the failure to stagger the release of people from schools and businesses in Atlanta during a light snowstorm Tuesday played a primary role in creating a paralyzing traffic jam.

"We made an error in the way that we released our citizens,'' Reed said. "The state made a judgment to release state employees, private businesses made that judgment, and I made the call and APS (Atlanta Public Schools) made the call."

He added that the city is relatively inexperienced at dealing with snowstorms, "but the city of Atlanta invested $2.5 million in snow equipment and that is the reason that right now our streets are passable."

Tuesday's snowfall brought just 2.6 inches of snow to Atlanta, but it was a one-day record and enough to hamstring the region, creating nightmares for commuters, truckers, students and their families.

Traffic was moving, albeit slowly in some cases, on most of metro Atlanta's major roads Thursday morning. There were exceptions: All northbound lanes of Interstate 75 were blocked for a time because of a jackknifed tractor trailer.

But morning rush-hour traffic was much lighter than normal: Most metro area schools canceled classes for the day, state government and many businesses were closed and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) was asking motorists to stay off the roads if possible.

Much of the focus Thursday, as temperatures are expected to begin rising above freezing by noon, will be on retrieving the abandoned vehicles littering area roads. People were being sent to one of two staging areas, depending on where they left their cars, beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday. They will be taken to their cars from those sites.

"There will be fuel available for vehicles that ran out of gas as well as the ability to jump start a dead battery," GEMA said in a statement.

More than 400 flights were canceled into and out of the Atlanta airport. "We anticipate additional cancellations at our Atlanta hub through (Thursday) morning before temperatures increase and conditions improve," said Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant. "We encourage customers to make sure they have updated contact info in their reservations and to also use delta.com and the Fly Delta app to check flight status and make changes."

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