Responders struggle to reach injured drivers on snowy, gridlocked Ga. highways
More than 1,385 wrecks were reported statewide but abandoned cars and multiple emergencies blocked the road; it took two hours for an ambulance to reach an ER less than 10 miles away
By Rhonda Cook and Misty Williams
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — It’s hard to respond to an emergency a mile away when there’s another emergency parked in front of you.
And unfortunately, just like you, state troopers, fire crews, emergency medical technicians and other first responders had no magical solutions over the past couple of days to reach scores of motorists injured in crashes along Georgia’s iced-over roads.
More than 1,385 wrecks were reported statewide by late Wednesday afternoon — resulting in 164 injuries and one death. A 60-year-old Griffin woman died after her Ford Explorer flipped over into a ditch.
Hundreds of cars and trucks stuck or abandoned along freeway emergency lanes made it difficult for crews to get to accidents.
“When you have these snowstorms and large events like this when you have hundreds of cars in the emergency lanes, there’s nothing you can do,” Carlton Stallings, a retired State Patrol captain, said. “You can blow your siren and use your emergency lights and there’s nothing you can do.”
With many roads turning to slush, Cobb County fire and police continued to troll for people stranded since Tuesday. Once an abandoned car or truck is checked, it is marked with red or yellow crime scene tape so other responders will know to pass it by.
Police were called midday to drive an elderly janitor from a middle school in the northern part of Cobb to his home at the other end of the county. “We were hearing (there was) an elderly man needing medical attention,” according to Cobb police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce.
Some metro hospitals meanwhile reported fewer patients than normal in emergency departments because of the gridlock.
At Atlanta Medical Center downtown, ambulances that were five to 10 miles away took up to two hours to get to the ER on Tuesday, said hospital spokeswoman Nicole Gustin. The hospital asked some staff to spend the night until they could be relieved and sent four-wheel drive vehicles to pick up others and take them in.
“It’s definitely better today,” Gustin said around lunchtime on Wednesday. “We’re not seeing as many ambulances.”
State Department of Natural Resources rangers picked up blood from the Red Cross and delivered it to Grady Memorial Hospital downtown and other area hospitals after couriers couldn’t get out.
Buckhead’s Piedmont Hospital was completely full and had to send new patients to other hospitals, partly because patients ready to be discharged had nowhere to go. In many cases, their families weren’t able to pick them up.
WellStar Health System reported that it took in 100 people in need of food and shelter.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta closed its urgent care and neighborhood locations Wednesday. Children’s spokesman Patty Turlington Gregory urged parents to be cautious if their kids go out to sled and play in the snow. “If a child gets hurt, they can’t get to the hospital right now,” she said.
Meanwhile, people with sick family members stranded on the roads without critical medications, food or water for hours cried out for help on Facebook, looking for anyone who could help their loved ones get to safety.
One woman pleaded on the newly created “Snowed Out Atlanta Eastside” page for someone to help her diabetic sister, who was stuck in her car overnight without her medication or anything to eat.
Kirkwood resident Keirsten Alexander caught a ride from a police officer Tuesday night after her car had died. Alexander said she awoke Wednesday morning and thought, “What can I do?” That’s when she read the post and enlisted her friends’ help too.
One friend with knowledge of diabetes suggested taking the woman a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some juice. Another friend, who lived just a few blocks from where the woman was stranded, managed to take her some food.
“You’ve got to like the Internet,” Alexander said. “We just did that neighborhood thing.”