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Georgia Governor apologizes to people trapped in ‘Walking Dead’ standstill following Tuesday’s snowfall

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Atlanta (CNN) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday apologized to thousands who were stranded on roadways and to parents whose children had to stay overnight in schools after Tuesday’s relatively light snowfall.

“I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparation early enough to avoid these consequence,” he said at a Thursday news conference.

Atlanta Area Residents Continue To Deal With After Effects Of Winter Storm

Abandoned vehicles line the highway. (GETTY IMAGES)

The governor, who faces voters again in November, and other public officials in the area have spent two days digging themselves out of an avalanche of criticism over the snarls that resulted when the weather went south.

Meanwhile, beleaguered commuters who had to ditch their cars in the snow — many of them still sleep-deprived and seething two days after some drives stretched into daylong ordeals — have been asked to show up at one of two locations Thursday.

From there, the National Guard will chauffeur them to where they walked away from their vehicles. They’ll also get up to five gallons of gas and, if needed, a jump-start, emergency management spokesman Ken Davis said.

Atlanta’s beleaguered commuters — many of them still sleep-deprived and seething two days after usually short commutes stretched into daylong ordeals for some — have been asked to show up at one of two locations.

From there, the National Guard will chauffeur them to where they walked away from their vehicles. They’ll also get up to five gallons of gas and, if needed, a jump-start, emergency management spokesman Ken Davis said.

More than 2,000 of the vehicles dotted the highways, Davis said early Thursday.

Towing of abandoned cars was expected to begin around 9 p.m. Thursday, Sgt. Dan Stephens of the Georgia State Patrol told CNN.

Greg Shrader, a truck driver from Maine, told CNN that he left Gainesville, Georgia, around 1 p.m. Tuesday to pick up a load of cars from a plant in Vance, Alabama — typically, a 3½-hour trip. Twenty-seven hours later, he was still on the road, had given up on trying to get to Alabama and was looking for a place to pull over and sleep.

“I’ve hauled cars for 18 years, 48 states and Canada,” he said Wednesday. “I have never been failed by officials like I have here. Still no equipment, no well-being check. No plan. I guess they’re waiting for it to melt.”

He was not alone.Screen shot 2014-01-30 at 2.09.13 PM

“I’ve lived in Atlanta since 2001, and I have NEVER come across a situation where the city was so unprepared,” CNN iReporter Jay Hayes of Smyrna wrote.

Public officials were singled out for criticism by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Mike Luckovich, who depicted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed responding to the snowfall by making snow angels.

Other critics asked why lessons learned after Atlanta’s glacial response to an ice storm in 2011 that shut the city for four days had not had an impact Tuesday.

Deal acknowledged Thursday that the response should have been handled differently. “I think we could have probably done a little better had we reacted earlier,” he told Fox News. “That’s always a guessing game.”

He added, “I think that the appropriate thing to do is to apologize for the inconvenience, and we have tried to minimize that inconvenience.”

Reed cited the mass exodus of Atlantans from the city as largely responsible for the resulting gridlock.

“We made an error in the way that we released our citizens,” he told NBC’s “Today.” “I think it would have made a major difference” had releases started from schools, followed by private businesses and then by government offices.

“Lack of experience certainly plays a role,” he said in response to a question. “We don’t have severe weather events like this often in the city of Atlanta or in Georgia.”

AJC columnist Jay Bookman offered measured support for Deal and Reed, but expressed frustration over the incident.

Rare Winter Storm In South Brings Ice And Snow To Region Unaccustomed To The Elements

Caution tape wrapped around a car after a driver lost control. (GETTY IMAGES)

“Once again, metro Atlanta has proved itself spectacularly incapable of handling a small weather setback, in this case a two-inch snowfall,” he wrote in a column published Wednesday.

“The fact that it comes just three years after another such failure certainly doesn’t make it easier to accept. But the appearance of incompetence and lack of preparation was offset — at least to a degree — by the way the two leaders handled themselves under fire.”

Tow, tow, tow

A-Tow, which runs more than 40 trucks in metro Atlanta, hauled 200 abandoned and wrecked vehicles from the snow and ice Wednesday.

In Alabama’s Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, hundreds of vehicles remained abandoned on country roads Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department said.

In North Carolina, at least 600 motorists called police to say they had crashed their vehicles or abandoned them.

Rare Winter Storm In South Brings Ice And Snow To Region Unaccustomed To The Elements

Many passengers were left stranded after a snowstorm passed through Atlanta. (Photo/Getty Images)

The toll

The Mississippi Highway Patrol said Wednesday it had responded to more than 600 traffic accidents after the bad weather hit.

In Georgia, state Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph T. Hudgens’ office estimated that claims would reach $10 million, spokesman Glenn Allen told CNN.

In Atlanta alone, police received more than 7,500 calls to 911 during the 26 hours after the snow began to fall.

The crisis dragged on far longer than many would have liked. It was not until Wednesday evening — more than a day after the snowfall began — that Deal announced that all of metropolitan Atlanta’s schoolchildren had gotten home.
Good memory

The sun was expected to finish Thursday afternoon what city planners could not as temperatures across the South were expected to rise.

But the disappearance of the ice is not likely to erase the memories of its impact for Amy Anderson, who was stuck in her car with her husband when she went into labor.

As a police officer looked on, Anderson gave birth to a daughter, whom she and her husband, Nick, named Grace.

“It was a pure blessing that everything went well, that we were both healthy and doing great,” the new mother told CNN’s Piers Morgan on Wednesday. “When we gave her the name Grace, it just fully explained the whole situation. Just by the grace of God that we all came out healthy.”

The weather affected Darshay Jones’ delivery, too. Emergency responders were en route to her house in Birmingham, Alabama, when they got involved in a wreck, CNN affiliate WBMA reported.

Police Dispatcher Keniquia Rutledge said she instructed Jones to stay calm and breathe.

“She asked me, ‘Have you ever done this before?’ I said, ‘No. We are going to learn this together,’ ” said Rutledge, who then coached Jones and her boyfriend through the birth.

The baby, named Wynter, was doing well Thursday at a hospital.