Tens of thousands of drivers across the South stuck in their cars for 12 or more hours learned the hard way that carrying emergency supplies in your vehicle is not only wise but even could save your life.
Winter Storm Leon, as it is called, turned a routine commute into what The Atlanta Journal Constitution labeled a “nightmare.”
In Alabama, more than 300 people abandoned their cars and walked to an exit off Interstate 20, and in the Birmingham area hundreds of students and teachers were stranded at school, some having spent the night there. In Georgia, there were 1,254 accidents reported, 130 injuries, and two deaths – all from snowy and icy roads. In the Atlanta area, 2,000 students remained stranded at schools Wednesday morning.
John Labreche, the head of a private school in Birmingham, Alabama, called the region a “zombie land.” Gas stations are running out of gas and grocery stores out of food. And semi trucks that normally would resupply the businesses aren’t able to travel on the roads – because of the gridlock and the icy roads, he said.
“It’s like a Walking Dead TV series,” he told OffTheGridNews.com. “Cars are everywhere, stuck on the roads. Trucks are jackknifed. People are going up the interstate the wrong way. It is crazy.”
Some cars even slid off the road and into the river, and the drivers had to swim to safety, Labreche said.
He spoke with one woman who spent more than eight hours getting home and then had to walk the final two miles.
“There are people who have been in their cars since 10:30 am yesterday,” he said in an interview at 2:30 p.m. the next day.
Desperate drivers stuck in cars frantically made posts to a Facebook page in an effort to call for help. Many of those trapped were completely helpless once their cars got stuck. One particularly disturbing post read:
My Mom Cynthia Herring and step dad with leukemia in need. stuck on 285 near cascade rd 17+ hrs. They are in a black Kia Soul. Almost out of gas, no food, no meds. For him. Please help
Tow trucks, too, were either stuck or not able to go out on the streets. One wrecker service said it received 50 calls but only responded to four because it did not have the necessary tire chains to go out in the snow and ice.
The New York Times reported that people trapped in cars ran out of medicine and one woman gave birth to a baby in a stranded car. Stranded drivers were sleeping in supermarkets and gas stations. The situation got so bad that the National Guard was mobilized to help motorists in Georgia and Alabama, even handing out food packets designed for soldiers on the battlefield.
Many in Atlanta are blaming the city government, which seemed helpless and unprepared even though only about two to three inches of snow fell.
Said Matthew Holcomb, a vice president of engineering at CNN:
I’ve been on the road for over 16 hours now. I’ve not seen anybody out. They’ve done nothing. I have seen literally hundreds of cars parked on the side of the road. I saw a lady carrying her kid in a blanket down the side of the road. I mean, people going the wrong way on major, major interstates. It’s scary stuff.
Trapped Motorist Froze to Death in Minnesota
At least one motorist froze to death after his car got stuck in Minnesota. The body of Garry Allen Kontz was found two miles from his stranded car near Stewart, Minnesota. Emergency workers think Kontz may have frozen to death while trying to walk to safety.
The media is blaming Kontz’s death on the storm, which caused blizzard-like conditions and wind chills of 35 to 50 degrees below zero in the area. Like many in the South, Kontz was completely helpless when his car got stuck.
The chaos caused by Winter Storm Leon should remind us an important lesson. We should always carry survival gear and supplies in our vehicles. Such supplies could be the difference between life and death as Kontz discovered.
Turning Your Car into a Survival Machine
One of the most important things you can do is to keep some basic survival materials in your vehicle. Survival supplies include:
- Blankets or sleeping bags, or an emergency blanket.
- Extra warming clothing such as gloves, hats, a facemask, jackets, socks, thermal underwear. A good suggestion here is to simply put old winter clothing you don’t always use in your trunk.
- Emergency rations or other food you can eat without cooking.
- A good first aid kit.
- Extra supplies of any prescription medicine you or family members use.
- A knife.
- Fire-starting materials in case you need to keep warm.
- Extra batteries
- A cell phone or satellite phone.
- Paper maps so you can determine your position if GPS goes down.
- Bottled water.
- Water purification tablets or drops.
Use Common Sense
Another important lesson to learn from Winter Storm Leon is to start using common sense and pay attention to what is happening around you. Watch the weather report on TV or visit websites like Weather.com and Weather Underground to check conditions before you travel.
If you see an alert for a major winter storm coming to your area don’t drive unless absolutely necessary. Take the day off from work or ask your boss if you can work from home during the storm. Keep the kids home from school, even if there is no snow day. The safest place to be in such emergencies is usually your home — especially if you keep it stocked with survival supplies.