US deep South snow storm maroons motorists

Stefany Velez told BBC News about her 10 hour journey home after snow caused traffic chaos in Atlanta

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Students stranded overnight after a snow storm left roads in the US South impassable have returned home, and soldiers have rescued stuck motorists.

The storm was blamed for at least 12 deaths, many of them traffic-related.

Barely 3in (7.6cm) of snow caused havoc in a warm-weather region where many cities do not even have snow ploughs or fleets of salt trucks.

Officials were criticised for ineffective preparation despite ample warning of the impending storm.

School officials waited until the middle of Tuesday when snow was already falling to send students home on routes where traffic was grinding to a halt.

Thousands of students across Georgia and Alabama spent Tuesday night in school gyms, and hundreds were trapped on school buses in the Atlanta region.

Gridlock

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said by Wednesday night all students in the Atlanta area had returned to their families.

Footage shows chaos caused by snow across the US

Many commuters abandoned cars along jammed motorways to seek shelter in churches and fire stations.

Gridlock on the streets of Atlanta was so bad that a police officer had to deliver a baby on a snowy motorway.

Mr Deal said on Wednesday morning that the National Guard had sent military Humvees on to the city's motorways to move stranded school buses and provide food and water to people.

Atlanta highway in ice and snow, 29 Jan An Atlanta highway is clogged southbound and closed northbound
National Guardsmen in Atlanta, 29 Jan The National Guard was out trying to help stranded motorists
Interstate 459 in Birmingham Alabama, 29 Jan More gridlock - this time on Interstate 459 in Birmingham Alabama
Snow-covered sand in Charleston, South Carolina, 29 Jan Children enjoy the unusual experience of snow-covered sand in Charleston, South Carolina
Grocery store in Atlanta, 29 Jan Stranded people take shelter in a grocery store in Atlanta

And South Carolina's Highway Patrol responded to more than 800 collisions on Tuesday evening.

Several people were killed in weather-related accidents, including five in Alabama on Tuesday, one in Atlanta and two in North Carolina.

Another four people died early on Tuesday in a Mississippi caravan fire blamed on a faulty heater.

New Orleans's main airport, which was closed on Tuesday, has reopened with a reduced service.

Some 1,700 flights across the US were grounded on Wednesday.

The latest cold snap stretched across much of the US on Wednesday, sending temperatures as low as -34C (-30F).

Offers of help

The extreme weather also brought out many Good Samaritans who offered food and shelter to strangers battling the elements.

Barely 3in (7.62cm) of snow brought the giant southern city of Atlanta to its knees, reports the BBC's David Willis

"I got some tea from some kids, from them and their mom," stranded motorist Rebekah Cole told CNN amid a then-10 hour commute in Atlanta.

But officials faced Atlanta residents angry the city had not taken more precautions.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Mr Deal apologised on Wednesday for the region's epic traffic jams.

Officials advised drivers to stay off the roads on Wednesday evening and Thursday as crews work to remove stranded cars and help commuters make their way home.

"What I'm thinking of every moment is how to get people out of their cars," Mr Reed said, as quoted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He said the city could have directed schools and government offices to stagger closings as the storm began, preventing everyone trying to drive home at once.

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