ATLANTA -- The Georgia National Guard was out in force Wednesday to rescue motorists trapped all night in their cars on Atlanta's icebound freeways from a harsh winter storm that forced many drivers to abandon their cars outright and left children to camp out in their schools.
Some commuters pleaded for help via cellphones while still holed up in their cars, while others gave up and trudged miles home.
Highways around the nation's ninth largest metropolitan area were littered with abandoned cars as commuters bailed out, some seeking warmth at shelter at 17 Home Depot that opened their doors to take in wayward motorists.
Police in suburban Atlanta say one of their own helped assist the safe delivery of a baby girl on a gridlocked interstate Tuesday afternoon after snow and ice brought traffic to a crawl.
As of 9 p.m., the Georgia State Patrol says they have been called out to investigate some 940 crashes since 10 a.m. Tuesday morning. The crashes have resulted in 104 injuries and one fatality, WXIA-TV reports.
Sandy Springs Police Capt. Steve Rose told The Associated Press the baby girl was safely delivered around 5:20 p.m. Tuesday amid gridlocked traffic on Interstate 285. A traffic officer arrived with only minutes to spare before the infant arrived.
"Fortunately he had his emergency lights on and people got out of his way," Rose said. "The delivery was pretty flawless."
About 500 students in Paulding County were stuck at elementary, middle and high schools, and about 1,300 were sheltering in place in Douglas county. Students were also trapped overnight in Marietta, Cherokee and Atlanta counties.
At Atlanta's East River Elementary School, about 100 students spent the night on mats on the floor, covered with coats and blankets. The children got caught out when school buses were unable to pick them up.
Some relieved parents, who spent the night trying to reach their children's schools, had begun picking up their children Wednesday.
"This has been an ordeal for everyone," said Georgia DOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale. "This storm and the bitter temperatures have caused so much difficulty, discomfort and anxiety for so many Georgians. We believe roadways will be restored to some level of normalcy today but would encourage the public to remain home, preferably all day."
Only about two-to-three inches of snow fell in Atlanta on Tuesday, but it was enough to ground hundreds of flights at Hartsfield International Airport — the U.S.'s busiest -- and paralyze the metropolitan area.
Debbie Hartwig, a waitress at an Atlanta area waffle house, said she managed to keep her cool thanks in part to the kindness of strangers after 10 hours on the road.
"I'm calm," she said. "That's all you can be. People are helping each other out, people are moving cars that have spun out or had become disabled. It's been really nice. I even saw people passing out hot coffee and granola bars."
"This was, hands down, the worst day of my life," Evan McLean of Canton, who toldThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he "was literally stranded on Canton road for two and half hours without moving an inch."
Cobb County chairman Tim Lee was among drivers stuck on I-75 in his truck north of the Chattahoochee River.
He said residents were calling him to request salt trucks, but he saw a silver lining in the lengthy gridlock.
"The good news is that traffic is so jammed up they can't get going too fast, so there's a lot fender benders but there's no injuries," he told The Marietta Daily Journal.
One traveler who had arrived Tuesday afternoon at Atlanta's airport from Maine spent five hours in traffic without moving when an WXIA reporter caught up with him.
He offered some Back East advice to Georgia's highway maintenance teams.
"You should put some salt on the road," he said. "When it's going to be wet and cold, get the salt trucks on the road. It's not hard."
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who dispatched guard troops in Humvees to clear the freeways, said Tuesday's storm "came unexpectedly."
Are meteorologists to blame for the traffic debacle, or a poor forecast? No, says Marshall Shepherd a meteorologist with the University of Georgia and current president of the American Meteorological Society.
"The buses had a tough time getting kids home, but meteorologists should not be thrown under the bus," he said.
Deal, like the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, declared a state of emergency.
While the storm that gripped much of the Deep South has moved into the Atlantic, there is little chance of significant melting of untreated roads and bridges Wednesday, according to Weather Channel meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.
Highs may struggle to reach the freezing mark in cities such as Atlanta and Charleston, S.C., he said.. Areas near the Gulf Coast such as Mobile and Pensacola may not rise much above freezing, even if a few rays of sunshine peek through the clouds later in the day.