Snow leaves Atlanta commuters stuck in hotels, on highways

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 30, 2014 

When John Lester left Columbus for a work-related meeting in Atlanta Tuesday morning, he intended to return before the roads were covered with snow.

But on Wednesday afternoon, he was still stuck at an Atlanta hotel, waiting for better driving conditions.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," said Lester, assistant vice president for university relations at Columbus State University. "I have no complaints compared to some of the horror stories I've seen on local TV."

Lester is just one Columbus resident affected by gridlock that brought Atlanta to a standstill in the wake of Tuesday's snowfall. On Wednesday, thousands of residents remained stranded on the interstate. Some were children trapped in school buses since Tuesday. Many had to be rescued by state troopers and other law enforcement.

Lester said he left Columbus at 7 a.m. Tuesday to attend a meeting and luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He planned to leave Atlanta when it was over and thought he could beat the storm.

"But when we left the luncheon, it was snowing," he said. "Calling (the interstate) 'a parking lot' doesn't even begin to describe it. It was a mess."

Lester said his wife, Kim, went online and found him a hotel room near the airport about 12 miles from where the luncheon was held. It took him four hours to get there, but it could have been much worse.

"The news up here is filled with people who had to leave their cars and walk to shelter, people sleeping on the floors of grocery stores, convenience stores, or any place they could find that was open and warm," he said. "The roads were so icy that everybody was sliding on the interstate. It was pretty scary."

Anderson Lemuel Newsome is a truck driver from Columbus. Early Wednesday afternoon, he posted a message on the Ledger-Enquirer Facebook page saying: "I'm stuck on I-75 just north of Atlanta. Been here since 3 p.m. yesterday. Just saw a group of college students walking down the road handing out coffee, donuts and water."

Newsome continued to keep friends and family updated on Facebook throughout the day.

"Just made it a few more (miles) down the road," he wrote about three hours later. "Traffic at a crawl. 285 still blocked up. Me and a couple other trucks started sliding so I'm on the shoulder again. Guess I'll try again tomorrow."

Another CSU official, Jonathan Lucia, was also stranded in Atlanta Wednesday because of the storm. Lucia, the university's director of residence life, said he drove to Atlanta on Saturday to attend a three-day conference for chief housing officers from universities all over the world. The conference was held at Emory Conference Center Hotel.

Lucia was scheduled to return to Columbus Wednesday morning but had to change plans.

"There are just no roads to get out of Atlanta at all," he said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm kind of hunkered down here with several thousands of folks. Most of the people at the conference actually live out of state and couldn't get flights out of the area."

Lucia said he didn't get stuck in traffic because he decided to remain in Atlanta after watching the local news, and he's glad he stayed.

"The people who worked yesterday at the hotel and conference center stayed overnight to keep everything functioning," he said. "I've really been impressed with their level of service, and kind of feel I've taken it for granted. I mean I had chocolate cake at lunch today and then I look around and see all the challenges everyone is facing.

"I feel lucky that I wasn't one stuck on the interstate all night long in sub-freezing temperatures with nothing to eat for a 2-year-old and 3-year-old," he added. "I have a cat, but I'm lucky enough to have someone in Columbus who is taking care of it for me. So, being stranded is not such a big deal."

Lester and Lucia both said they will return to Columbus today if the weather permits.

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