Simone Coleman, 15, spent 13 hours on an Atlanta Public Schools bus, stuck on I-285 in a snowstorm that turned Atlanta upside down. Coleman didn’t get home until 5:30 a.m. and oh what a relief it was for her and her schoolmates and their worried parents.
“I just tried to sleep through the time and not think about it. Some of the boys peed in sports bottles at the back of the bus, and all the girls, well, we just held it,” said Coleman, a sophomore at Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs. “A girl started selling Oreos five for $10 and people were buying them because everybody was hungry.”
“The bus driver called in an emergency because we weren’t getting anywhere,” Coleman said.
“An ambulance came hours after the call, but it could only take five kids at a time. They took all of us, five at a time, to the Kroger on Cascade Road,” said Coleman. “Kroger was probably the best part of the whole thing. The Kroger manager let us go down the isles and pick whatever we wanted to eat.”
Weldon and Shirley Coleman were happy to be reunited with their daughter, Simone, after she spent more than 13 hours on a public school bus.
Coleman’s story was just one of many that came to light as thousands of motorists hit Atlanta’s roadways, turning them into parking lots as they scrambled to get home.
Some 1,500 students were forced to sleep overnight at school because the roads were not safe to travel.
Coleman’s parents, Weldon and Shirley Coleman, say the school system did a poor job of informing them what was going on. They said the school system should have just canceled school in the first place.
“If it wasn’t for our daughter texting us, we wouldn’t have known anything. The school system e-mailed a release about the school busses being delayed but that information was wrong,” said Weldon Coleman.
In Clayton County, Mt. Zion Road was impassable due to the conditions. Several cars landed in ditches.
There has been much finger pointing with the way the Jan. 28 storm was handled, namely at Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Deal acknowledged that one of the biggest mistakes was in failing to have employers release workers during staggered times to avoid gridlock at once on the roads. Individual school districts, Deal said, had the authority to keep students home if they chose, but many districts in Georgia sent kids to school and then made the decision to release them early afternoon when the snow flurries began falling and sticking.
Officials did not anticipate the storm would be as bad as it was, despite weather reports earlier in the week that suggested differently. Deal and Reed said that they will look at what kind of control guidance they can give districts in the future.
“I want to start off by apologizing to those individuals who were stranded on our roadways, to those parents whose children were unable to return home in a timely fashion. I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparation early enough to avoid these consequences,” Deal said during a press conference.
Although only two to three inches of snow fell, the roads iced, sending some into panic. There were more than 1,200 car accidents on Georgia roads and 130 injuries, according to the Georgia State Patrol. In DeKalb County, police responded to 2,588 calls, and DeKalb Fire Rescue responded to 883 calls The DeKalb Emergency 911 center answered 7,781 emergency calls and 2,793 non-emergency calls for a total of 10,574, DeKalb officials reported.
One of the worst accidents involved a 14-year-old Smyrna girl whose leg was partially severed when she was hit by a car that was unable to stop. The teen was trying to push her family’s disabled vehicle on an icy roads when the accident happened. She was transported to Egleston Children’s Hospital to try and save her leg.
Marlowe Mathis of Tucker said she took a big hit from the storm financially.
“I’ve missed two days of work because of the weather,” said Mathis, who is a hostess for a restaurant. “Every day I wake up and call to see if I can come in for my scheduled shift or to pick up somebody else’s, but the restaurant has remained closed. I do understand the restaurant closing, though. I have watched several cars in the neighborhood slide down it or get stuck in the ice just trying to get out of the apartment complex.”
Not everyone was negatively impacted by the storm. Kenley’s Catering and Sandwich Shop in downtown Atlanta was busy delivering meals to Georgia Power workers, other first responders, and students at Georgia State University .
“I had called early in the week to let Georgia Power know that I would be available for catering, in the event that they needed me. Sure enough, they called,” said owner Kenley Waller, who spent the night at his restaurant on Tuesday.
Waller said he was on I-75 at 3:30 a.m. delivering hot breakfast meals of grits, eggs, sausage, bacon, home fries, biscuits, white gravy, and orange juice.
Waller wasn’t alone. There were others who demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit like some teens who made their way to the Grady connector hawking bottled water and snacks to stranded motorists.
“They stopped by my truck and asked me if I wanted something to eat. They had McDonald’s bags, too,” said Waller. “I thought that was a great idea. People were just sitting there for hours in gridlock traffic. You know some of them were hungry and thirsty.”
Hungry people was foremost on the mind of the owner/operator of the Church’s Chicken on Highway 78 in Lilburn. The owner ran the operation solo, serving a line of people at the drive-through.
People also turned to social media to fend for one another. Someone set up a Facebook page, SnowedoutAtlanta, as a support group offering help to those who needed it and as a way for people to communicate during the storm.
School kids who managed to make it home awoke the next day to a winter playland. Lithonia City Council member Darold Honore said his son played with neighbor, Doreen Carter’s, sons in the snow.
“They were out there throwing snowballs and building a snowman,” said Honore. “You know, the kids were just happy to be out of school.”