A winter storm that started as rain — meaning roads couldn’t be pretreated — followed by an unusually heavy snowfall and plunging temperatures resulted in the stranding of hundreds of motorists along a stretch of one of the nation’s biggest interstate highways, Virginia officials said, as they defended their response to the gridlock.
However, there were no deaths or injuries reported from the calamity at Interstate 95. There was a lot of outrage from motorists who were left stranded overnight Monday through Tuesday and posted pleas for help via social media.
Gov. Ralph Northam said during a news conference that he could sympathize with drivers’ frustration and fear.
The problem started Monday morning when a truck struck Interstate 95 between Richmond, Washington, triggering a chain reaction that saw other vehicles lose control. State police stated that this caused the problems.
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They grew as snow fell at a rate of about 2 inches per hour throughout the day, according to Marcie Park, a Virginia Department of Transportation Engineer leading the effort for clearing the interstate.
“That was too much for us,” she said to reporters. “Consequently, with the amount of traffic that we had on the interstate, the trucks and the cars couldn’t make it up and down the hills because we had too much snow and ice out there.”
Both directions eventually became blocked on a 40-mile stretch I-95 north from Richmond. As the night fell, motorists posted messages to social media claiming that they were running out of fuel, food, or water as the hours went by.
Prime Inc. truck driver Emily Slaughter stated that she was driving from New Jersey, Georgia to deliver vegetables to FedEx. She became stranded on the southbound side I-95 for five hours. She said that everything was fine until she reached Virginia.
“All of a sudden, you could not see lines.” She said that it got a little scary.
Slaughter stated that she stopped quickly and learned about disabled vehicles via radio and social media.
“People were saying, ‘we’re running out of gas’ or ‘our kids are hungry,’” she said.
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Meera Rao with her husband Raghavendra were driving home from North Carolina when they got stuck Monday night. They were just 100 feet from an exit, but couldn’t move for 16 hours.
She said that she had not seen one police officer in the 16 hours that we were stuck. “No one came. It was shocking. It was shocking that, even though we were in the most advanced country on the planet, no one knew how one of us could get out of this mess.
Northam defended his decision to not activate the Virginia National Guard and declare a state emergency.
He stated that the problem facing state crews wasn’t a lack in manpower, but the difficulty of getting workers through the snow and to the places they need to be. He also said that a “state of emergency”, which would normally be declared hours to days in advance of an event to give more flexibility in responding, would not have helped.
Up to 11 inches of snow fell in the area during Monday’s blizzard, according to the National Weather Service, and state police had warned people to avoid driving unless absolutely necessary, especially as colder nighttime temperatures set in.
Officials said that because the storm started with rain, crews were unable to pretreat the roads as the salt or chemicals would have washed away. Some traffic cameras were also damaged by power outages. Parker stated that the traffic backups were in a poor position relative to interstate express lanes, so they weren’t much help clearing the logjams.
Crews worked all day to clear the road. Traffic poured onto secondary roads, creating additional delays.
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The Virginia Department of Transportation took until Tuesday, around 8:30 p.m., to reopen the interstate. Authorities had announced earlier that all motorists had reached the highway. Road crews focused on removing any abandoned vehicles and plowing the entire stretch.
Officials did not provide an estimate of how many vehicles were stuck in the jam. Photos showed that they were in the hundreds, if perhaps thousands.
Amtrak passengers also became stranded in Virginia due to the storm. Amtrak’s Crescent left New Orleans on Sunday on its way to New York and got stuck near Lynchburg on Monday morning, when downed trees blocked the tracks.
Sean Thornton, a passenger on Amtrak, stated to AP that Amtrak provided food. However, the toilets were clogged and passengers were furious. Amtrak intended for the train to complete its journey once the tracks are cleared.
Kelly Hannon, a spokeswoman from the transportation department, offered motorists an apology for the I-95 congestion and said that the department would take a “exhaustive view” of the incident.
Marvin Romero, aged 10 and 8, was returning home from a South Florida family vacation with his daughters. He had spent 20 hours in the car and a long, anxious night.
“I consider it a once in a lifetime experience. How many people can say they stepped on I-95 or slept on I-95? He said. “It’s hopefully a story that I can tell my grandkids one day.”
Source: Fox News