By now most of the country has heard about the snow storm in Atlanta, how the city was gridlocked and thousands of people, including children, spent the night away from their loved ones. (not including first responders, officers, power company workers).
Here are the details about what and how this happened.
First, because of the warm climate, communities and suburbs around metro Atlanta do not have trucks that scrape the roads. The expense outweighs the probability of ever needing the equipment. We do not have salt, sand, chat (tiny pieces of gravel) or any other means of road maintenance. We do have weathermen who did forecast 1-2 inches of snow. We were not taken by surprise: However, take this into consideration, my personal example if you will:
My example is one school district. Multiply that by the surrounding counties and you can imagine the kind of traffic we were dealing with. Between 1:43 to 1:46 (depending on where you are in the queue) 98,000 parents whose children are enrolled in the Fulton County School system received a call saying that “all schools in Fulton County are closing at 1:45. Parents you may come get your children.” There were no instructions regarding placing your child on a school bus. Many of those 98,000 parents were at work. They got into their cars to get their kids. That equaled gridlock. As an example my husband’s 15 minute commute, took 1 hour 44 minutes. He arrived home just as I was getting the call from the school.
“We can’t get out,” he said. “No way, we will have to walk.”
So we donned our warm clothes, grabbed extra boots and a coat for my daughter and began walking.
Neighboring counties had already released. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people on the road simultaneously.
Let’s enter Facebook for a moment. Beginning at 11:30 am, I and hundreds of parents were begging Fulton County to release their students. We were calling, texting, tweeting, and sending messages to the board and the new station. Yet three hours passed before the administration released our children.
Buses: Again, the automated message did not tell us about a bus schedule. On a normal day, each school bus makes three trips. Beginning around 2:30, a single bus picks up Elementary school kids first, then high school, and finally, middle school. So on a normal day, the last students gets off the bus by around 6:00. But when the snow storm hit, by 6:00 pm tens of thousands, of HIGH SCHOOL kids in the Fulton County school system were either on a school bus or still in school; many buses simply returned to school because they could not navigate the icy roads. That left middle school kids still at school and a large amount of high school students as well. Thousands of children spent the night at school. The National Guard was dispatched to ease parental concerns. As of noon 1/29/2013 2,000 students are still at school and the National Guard is escorting busses on the roads.
Politics: Before we crucify the Governor, please know that he has no power, no control whatsoever over when the school, or local businesses release their workers. Both the Mayor and Governor wisely released non-essential employees at 10:00 am (before snow started). They took care of their employees. The school systems did not release until the roads were white with snow. Also of note, there are approximately 60 mini-municipalities outside of the Atlanta Metro area with their own board of elected officials. Those “small towns” for lack of a better word, are responsible for their own road maintenance. Imagine the Governor or the Mayor calling any of them and saying, “I think y’all need to let your employees go home early.”
Ponder that for a moment. How do you think those municipal leaders would respond?
Throwing propane on the panic, around noon the City of Roswell’s Emergency Management Office sent an automated message for people to stay off the roads. They reported icy conditions and basically sent the population of 93,962 residents into a panic with their message. And where do a lot of those people work? You got it…downtown Atlanta.
Further, school administrators do not report to the Governor, or Mayor of Atlanta. Had the interstates been clear this issue would have still played out due to volume and lack of maintenance on side roads. It is just impossible to funnel over a million cars through an interstate system that goes from six lanes, to four lanes, to two lanes without significant, significant back up. As my husband said, “this type of bottle neck happens every time it rains; it was just made worse because the roads were icy.”
Gridlock: By 4 pm, tens of thousands of vehicles were jammed onto the roads: workers, frantic mothers who worked in downtown were trying to get their children; children didn’t know how they were going to get home and wanted their parents; tractor trailers who most-likely had passed a weight station that was CLOSED. But in the middle of bad, something good happened. Michelle Sollicito, an angel on this earth, created a Facebook Page called Snowedout Atlanta. I watched the group from a thousand, to 7 thousand to over 35 thousand to 50,000 now. The page offered links to people who were opening their homes, to heroes who were driving out to get stranded motorists, to shelters, churches, businesses. Let me SHOUT OUT to HOME DEPOT and KROGER and other businesses who stayed open 24 hours. Neighbors, and strangers, reached out. As the posts came in, Snowed Out Angels monitored the Page then left their homes and braved snow and ice to pick up strangers and unite them with families. By dark, thousands of people had no choice but to leave their cars and walk in freezing temperatures. Frantic family members posted pleas for help and help came. The spirit of fear was replaced with hope.
Today: We are not out of the woods. At 10:00 am, it is 12 degrees. Thousands are still in their cars. We are not expecting temperatures to rise above freezing. Tractor trailer drivers, HERO units are getting stuck. Help is coming but they are having to plow their way to you. Please, I beg you, please pray for us.
Yesterday, and still today, we were and are all one. We just wanted to be inside. We wanted our parents, our family, our pets. There were reports of people standing at the end of their driveways offering food, shelter, and ya know what? That felt good.
Why did it feel good? Because you, yes you, were being the hands and feet of Jesus. You were using your gift, your purpose to help someone else. It is a powerless feeling to see so many people stranded, afraid, just wanting to get home. All I could do was pray, and post links of people opening their doors. My prayer was that neighbor would help neighbor, strangers would reach out to another, that the fear blanketing the area would be driven out, and that His name would be glorified.
You may not be a believer, but that wonderful feeling you experienced by helping another, that is your purpose. That is what God made you for. Whether you wanted to or not, at that moment you made God smile. So today as we are iced in here in “Hotlanta” I would like you to reflect on the goodness you have experienced, what you saw, what you felt, what you did.
You my friends, despite your religion, despite your belief, despite your past wrongs, despite the fact that you and God don’t really get along anymore . . . you did what you were called to do, what you were placed here to do. You helped, by prayer or deed and you made God smile.
Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for reading my blog. Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com