Freak Southern Snow Storm Strands 8,000 Students

Students camped out with teachers while commuters abandoned vehicles.

ByABC News
January 29, 2014, 7:38 AM

Jan. 29, 2014— -- Nearly 8,000 students across Georgia and Alabama woke up today in school gyms or on buses. Streets and highways were littered with abandoned cars. Others emerged from churches, fire stations and grocery stores where they had spent the night after a rare snowstorm left thousands of unaccustomed southerners frozen in their tracks.

"Weather got so severe that we had to close the school," said Christine Hoffman, the principal of Inverness Elementary School in Birmingham, Ala., where 75 students spent the night. "We promised parents that staff would be at our school until every child was picked up."

Tuesday's storm deposited mere inches of snow - less than three inches in Atlanta - barely enough to qualify as a storm up North. And yet it was more than enough to paralyze Deep South cities such as Greenville, N.C., which officials say has only three snow plows, and New Orleans, which has none.

Among those who couldn't move was an expectant mom and her husband trying to get to the hospital. The woman ended up giving birth to a baby girl on Atlanta's Interstate 285.

"I could see the baby head like it was crowning so I went back to my car to get my first aid kit and some gloves and when I got back to the car the head had popped out," said Officer Tim Sheffield of the Sandy Springs Police Department, who helped deliver the baby with the father.

The below-freezing weather turned major roadways into sheets of ice, leaving thousands of drivers stranded and cars abandoned. One driver trying to get to the airport told ABC News he traveled one mile in eight hours.

"It was an incredible ordeal to drive in this kind of stuff and to make it home safe, that was a miracle to me," said another driver, Stan Coates.

The superintendent for Fulton County Schools in suburban Atlanta says his district had 90 buses stuck at midnight and a handful still stuck at 7:30 this morning.

PHOTOS: Deep South Hit By Rare Snowfall

"We have had students, unfortunately, stuck on buses all night," said Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa. "The National Guard and other state and local officials have been helping us escort buses out of those situations."

Officials say all students have now been safely removed from stranded buses.

Many of the students stuck on buses were taken back to school, where they spent the night. Atlanta Public Schools confirmed to ABC News that several hundred students are "sheltered in place" at nine schools this morning.

More than 600 students remained in Marietta, Cobb County schools overnight.

Another 1,400 students slept in schools in Jefferson County, Ala., overnight, according to Bob Ammons with Alabama Emergency Management, while nearly 2,000 students camped out in Shelby County schools.

An additional 4,500 students remain at schools in Hoover, Ala.

"We started thinking about how we were going to feed them," David Miles, the principal of Louis Pizitz Middle School, in Vestavia Hills, Ala., where 20 students spent the night, told ABC News.

"Our lunch room manager happened to be one of the staff members stuck here and, singlehandedly, she put together a great hot meal for the kids," Miles said. "We took care of them and we rolled out the mats and have been showing them movies."

Adding to the congestion is the fact that many drivers simply gave up on the weather, leaving their cars on the road and walking to their destination.

"It is not moving at all, it's at a complete standstill," said Brandy Wallace, an Alabama resident who abandoned her car and walked back to her office after trying to get home. "People were blocking the intersection, getting out of their cars and walking."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said early today that the National Guard was sending military Humvees onto Atlanta's snarled freeway system in an attempt to move stranded school buses and get food and water to people, and that Georgia State Patrol troopers would be heading to schools where children spent the night.