DAVID CRARY and RAY HENRY Associated Press
ATLANTA -- Thousands of Atlanta students stranded all night long in their schools were reunited with their parents Wednesday, while rescuers rushed to deliver blankets, food, gas and a ride home to countless shivering motorists stopped cold by a storm that paralyzed the business capital of the South with less than 3 inches of snow.
As National Guardsmen and state troopers fanned out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal found themselves on the defensive, acknowledging the storm preparations could have been better. But Deal also blamed forecasters, saying he was led to believe it wouldn’t be so bad.
The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.
Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.
The mayor admitted the city could have directed schools, businesses and government offices to stagger their closings on Tuesday afternoon, as the storm began, rather than dismissing everyone at the same time.
The result was gridlock on freeways that are jammed even on normal days.
One woman’s 12-mile commute home took 16 hours. Another woman gave birth while stuck in traffic; police arrived just in time to help. Drivers who gave up trying to get home took shelter at fire stations, churches and grocery stores.
One traffic death was reported in Atlanta -- that of a man killed in a crash.
"I’m not thinking about a grade right now," the mayor said when asked about the city’s response. "I’m thinking about getting people out of their cars."
National Guardsmen in Humvees, state troopers and transportation crews delivered food and other relief, and by Wednesday night, Deal said all Atlanta-area schoolchildren were back home with their parents.
Atlanta was crippled by an ice storm in 2011, and officials had vowed not to be caught unprepared again. But in this case, few closings or other measures were ordered ahead of time.