It was my worst nightmare happening before my eyes; my husband was stranded in freezing cold temperatures and couldn’t get home to me. Snowstorm Leon swept through Atlanta Jan. 28, 2014. My husband was at work like everyone else that day. It was a normal day - the morning was sunny and not too cold. The city of Atlanta received weather reports days in advance that a winter storm was on its way; one that would bring 1-3” of snow. Some heeded this warning, many did not because the local government didn’t advise people to stay home. The schools remained open when they should have been closed. Everyone went about their day just like any other.
The snow began to fall around 11:00 am and it didn’t let up until the evening hours. It left only 2-1/2” – 3” on the ground, which is laughable to northerners who deal with much more than that on a daily basis. But the difference is that their city officials prepare and resource the cities to sustain icy road conditions, where the city of Atlanta was not prepared.
As I said before, Meteorologists gave plenty of warning about this winter storm; in my opinion, the city should have been prepared for it. Why weren’t roadways salted the night before the snow hit? Why weren’t schools closed? These are the questions I am sure many people thought as they sat in their vehicles stranded on roads, worrying about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. These are the questions many people may have asked while they were at home worrying about their loved ones on the roads. These are the questions parents might have demanded answers to as they were separated from their children stranded at school or worse, stranded on school buses. Something that should be so beautiful and enjoyable like getting snow in the south, turned so bleak, dangerous and helpless in a matter of minutes.
It was reported that government officials told their employees to go home in the early afternoon. When that happened businesses and schools let out as well. The snow began around 11 am. A population of 5.5 million people were potentially now out on the roads, resulting in major traffic jams, accidents, and complete chaos.
Roads were covered with vehicles of people trying desperately to get home, therefore salt trucks couldn’t reach the roads. Every major road in Atlanta was a parking lot. Police couldn’t direct traffic because they were responding to emergency calls. The snow kept falling and temperatures were below freezing. As the day progressed, so did the onset of ice. Atlanta, especially northern Atlanta, is covered with hills. So when the snow turned to ice on these hilly roads, cars went into tailspins. Roads became blocked by cars that were stuck or had run out of gas. Many people abandoned their cars, which also blocked roadways. Every major road and interstate was a traffic jam from noon through the night. 24 hours later, people were still stranded on roads.
Many people in Atlanta were outraged! Where was the leadership? Where was the help? Where was the prevention? Because in my opinion, all of this could have been prevented! In an interview with CNN, Mayor Reed suggested that the city was doing the best it could. He admitted no fault. He said there was nothing that could have been done differently except stagger when people went home. However, many things should have been done differently. The two main ones are: 1. The government should have advised schools and businesses to be closed that day; businesses and schools can decide for themselves whether or not they will close, but the government should have shown some leadership and at least advised them to close. 2. The roads should have been salted and prepared prior to the storm.
By 11:30 am the following morning, 1,254 accidents, 124 injuries, and one fatality were reported. It’s sad to think that these tragic events might have been prevented had our local government acted prior to the storm instead of after.
As I hear many stories on the news and ones from my husband’s experience, I am of the opinion that many people in Atlanta share my disappointment in our government’s action, or lack thereof, prior to the storm. So I will leave it at that. Now I would like to share my husband’s story of how he made it home and the good that he witnessed on his journey. It filled his heart with joy to see such camaraderie, good will, and selflessness in the people of Atlanta.
My husband left his office in Sandy Springs at 1:00 pm to drive home to Roswell. What is normally a 30-minute commute, turned into a driving distance of six miles in eight hours - an average of 0.8 miles per hour. That’s nothing compared to the many who were still stranded on interstates 24 hours later, my heart goes out to these strong people. My husband was hungry, thirsty and needed to use the bathroom. He ended up urinating into cups inside his car. After sitting in traffic for three hours, he pulled into a gas station and luckily was able to fill his car with gas. He bought protein bars, trail mix, water, Gatorade, and continued his journey.
When he arrived at the Chattahoochee Recreational Park at 8:30 pm., he noticed a line of cars at a standstill in front of him. A man approached each car in line and told drivers that 30 cars were stuck trying to get up the hill and that the road was a sheet of ice. No one was going to make it on this route. My husband thanked the man for letting him know the situation.
He tried an alternate route, but quickly found he couldn’t make it up the ice-covered hills. At this point he called me on the phone. He was terrified as he was spinning out in his car and sliding down steep hills. He couldn’t control the car anymore, the ice had overtaken it. I started crying, I was so afraid he was going to wreck or spin off the road. I prayed for God to protect him and watch over him.
Finally, my husband made it down the hill safely and parked his car at the Chattahoochee Park. At this point, he knew he couldn’t drive anymore. The only options were to stay the night in his car or walk home. As he deliberated in his mind, he felt an absolute desire to get home to me and he felt the Lord telling him he could make the walk. At that, he made his decision to walk the seven-mile trek home.
It was now 8:49 pm. He gathered his food, water and work computer into his backpack, swung the 25 lbs. over his shoulders and began walking…in loafers. He had decided to wear a wool sweater to work that morning so he was warm wearing that under his heavy Barbour coat, which I had given to him last Christmas. He told me he loved me and that he would call me when he reached Downtown Roswell. I cried and told him I loved him. He told me to stop crying; that he couldn’t cry or he would get frostbite. I tried to be strong for him as we said we loved each other and hung up.
After we hung up the phone, I felt a pit in my stomach, like I would never hear from him again. I knew he could make the long walk home - he was an Eagle Scout and experienced in backpacking/hiking, but I was afraid of things outside his control happening to him. Afraid he would get hit by a car that lost control on the ice. Afraid he would get frostbite on his face or feet; he didn’t have a hat or scarf and he didn’t have good shoes to walk in. I was afraid it would get too cold for him and he wouldn’t have any shelter if he needed it. All of these thoughts flew through my mind and all I could do was pray and pace the floors. I prayed that he would feel God’s angels surrounding him in protection and that he would get home to me safely.
He called 30 minutes later and let me know that he made it to Downtown Roswell (5.4 miles from home). He met up with a lawyer who was walking home as well. They discussed the current situation, each other’s line of business, and talked a good amount about their wives. The lawyer shared that he worked in Midtown, but wasn’t able to get out of the parking lot. He took the Marta to Sandy Springs and walked the rest of the way from there (9 miles). My husband was amazed at this. The mile that he and the lawyer walked together, gave my husband the confidence he needed to continue his journey home and feel in his heart that everything was going to be fine.
During his walk through Downtown Roswell, he saw numerous people throwing kitty litter, sand, and salt onto the roads. He saw people with shovels, helping others free their vehicles. Many businesses remained open to provide shelter for those who were stranded. Police were helping push cars that had been stuck, directing traffic and protecting the people. My husband was filled with an admiration of the good in humanity and it gave him a renewed spirit to continue on.
The lawyer made it to his home in Downtown Roswell and my
husband was now on his own again, but he didn’t feel alone. He felt a constant
presence with him; walking by his side and keeping him safe. He didn’t feel
afraid nor tired. He was filled with energy and excitement to get home.
It was 10:00 pm, he was now at Woodstock Rd. near Jones Rd. (3.1 miles from home). From a distance, he saw a car lose control and slide on the ice. He got out of the way and it slid into the spot where he had been walking. It would have hit him if he hadn’t veered from its path. The Lord was with him, keeping him safe from outside circumstances; the outside circumstances I was so fearful of.
After that, a truck slid out of control and was about to run into the back of a car which remained stopped in the road. The man in the truck yelled for the lady in the car to get out of the way, but she didn’t hear him. My husband noticed the lady in the car looking at him so he signaled her to move up, she did and the truck missed her.
Another man was stuck in his SUV and trying to drive out of the snow spinning beneath his tires. My husband asked if he needed help and the man said he did. He helped the man push his SUV out of the snow. The man thanked him and was able to go on his way.
Finally he made it to the Home Depot on Hwy 92 (2 miles from home). Hwy 92 was a parking lot. All of a sudden, a man in a cameo suite flew by on a 4wheeler. My husband thought to himself, “Man I wish I had one of those about now.” He later found out that the man on the 4wheeler was Chipper Jones going to the rescue of his friend who had been stranded, Freddie Freeman.
There weren’t many people walking at this point, but my husband noticed a lot of people on the streets giving water and food to drivers in the gridlock of cars. Target, Home Depot, and CVS, among other businesses, stayed open through the night to provide shelter for those who were stranded. People were out with their shovels and kitty litter helping others free their vehicles from the ice.
My husband made it to the Target shopping center (1 mile from home). He met his brother who was going to give him a ride home, but seeing the gridlock, they both decided it wasn’t a good idea. Also they had received news that a family friend was stuck on GA 400 and was in more dire need of help. So my husband warmed up in his brother’s car and then continued on his journey home, while his brother went to help their stranded friend.
It was 11:00 pm and he called to let me know he was close to the neighborhood. I threw on my coat and boots and ran out to the front of the neighborhood to meet him. When we saw each other we hugged and were filled with so much joy. I took his backpack and carried it for him. Gave him my scarf and hat and we walked home together hand in hand. I thanked the Lord for getting my husband home safe.
After he changed clothes and ate some dinner, we talked about his eventful night. He told me that, looking back he could see how the Lord was with him the whole time. This morning the Lord was with him when he picked out warm clothes to wear to work. He had leather gloves in his car. He ate an omelet for breakfast instead of a lite granola bar, which gave him energy throughout the day. He drove the Ford Edge to work instead of his Nissan Altima. He stopped at a gas station after sitting in three hours of traffic, filled up on gas and bought protein-rich food and water which helped sustain him on his walk home. His feet were completely dry when he got home. Anyone knows when you walk in snow in loafers, your feet are going to get wet, but I felt his feet as soon as he got home and they were completely dry. He didn’t get frostbite on his face, which was uncovered. He didn’t get hit by a car, which would have been so easy to with the amount of vehicles that slid out of control on the icy roads. He never tired of the walk and he felt a constant source of strength and energy.
He felt the Lord’s protection the entire way home. He felt a companion with him on his journey. He felt safe and was unafraid during the time he walked. I thought to myself, “Wow, my prayers for him have been answered.” I asked the Lord to send his angels to surround and protect my husband, and He did.
My husband told me, “There is so much good in people. You are always told of bad people on the news and it gives you a perception that there is so much evil in the world, but I saw people collaborating and working together to help those in need. I saw no evil tonight, only goodwill and selflessness. It warmed my spirit. And though I never want to go through that experience again, I am glad I did because I learned something about the good in humanity and trusting in the Lord.”
He also told me that he walked those seven miles to get home to me. That’s all he could think about. I said that was the most romantic thing I had ever heard. That’s like something out of a movie! We smiled at each other.
And ours isn’t the only love story out there. The lawyer walked nine miles to get to his wife and kids. A father walked six miles to reach his daughter at school. Many wives and husbands kept trying to get home even though they were stuck in such terrible circumstances. Brothers and sisters put themselves in danger to rescue their loved ones. Friends set out in the cold to help their friends. Strangers helped strangers.
It goes to show that no matter what the circumstance, people will go through endless bounds for the ones they love. We will walk through snowstorms and sit in our vehicles for hours upon hours if it means getting home to our loved ones. We will put ourselves through misery to get to the ones we love because when it comes down to it, that’s all we have in this world: God and Each Other.