Newton County res­i­dents were stuck in their cars for up to 12 hours, leav­ing work in At­lanta Tues­day night.

Area com­muters stuck for hours

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

Snow is an un­fa­mil­iar enough sight for Metro At­lanta res­i­dents, but ice-skat­ing Fords, Hon­das and Chevro­lets? That’s just plain out-there.

It turns out, slid­ing cars were just a few miles out there, a short jaunt from Newton County.

Tues­day af­ter­noon, those cars slid­ing on the high­ways around At­lanta started a chain re­ac­tion, turn­ing north cen­tral Ge­or­gia’s in­ter­states into a park­ing lot. Area res­i­dents mak­ing the com­mute from jobs in At­lanta were stuck in ar­guably one of the worst traf­fic jams ever, ac­cord­ing to na­tional news ser­vices, and forced to sit in their cars for hours. Two inches of snow turned rush hour into any­thing but.

Newton County com­muters couldn’t avoid the epic traf­fic jam.

Chris Owens, com­ing back from an in­stal­la­tion job on Pow­ers Ferry Road with JS Owens Corp., saw al­most 11 hours pass be­fore pulling his Chevro­let Sil­ver­ado into Newton County. Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent Danyielle Reis­ter and her hus­band, Rick, left her job in Buck­head at 8 p.m., and reached home safely at 11:06 p.m. For Reis­ter’s co-worker, it was even worse: Her com­mute lasted through the night.

“She got off at 8 p.m. and lives in Gwin­nett,” Reis­ter said. “She texted me when I was up mak­ing cof­fee at 8/8:30 a.m. (Wed­nes­day) that she just got home.

“Luck­ily, I didn’t have to deal with any of that stuff. It was bad enough the four hours when I was in it.”

Aerial pho­tos of I-75, I-20 and other ma­jor ar­ter­ies in the At­lanta area showed mo­torists stuck as their ve­hi­cles ran out of gas, or just aban­don­ing those ve­hi­cles for the shel­ter of restau­rants, stores and fire sta­tions.

Rick Reis­ter, who is from North Dakota, knew if he kept clear of the heavy-traf­fic ar­eas he could make it through the two inches of pow­dery snow. He took the Cov­ing­ton cou­ple on a route from Pied­mont Road to Mon­roe (go­ing three to five miles in 30 min­utes), get­ting on I-20 from Mon­roe. The Reis­ters got on I-20 at 8:55, ac­cord­ing to text mes­sages by Danyielle, be­fore get­ting stuck near the Flat Shoals Road exit at 9:02 p.m.

Cars blocked the high­way. Some had spun side­ways, and oth­ers were just parked by fed-up driv­ers.

While the Reis­ters were held up near Flat Shoals Road, the icy ground kept their car go­ing.

“We were sit­ting and the car was slid­ing,” Danyielle said. “Just sit­ting on the ice. It was weird.”

While the Reis­ters were stuck on I-20, Owens was still try­ing to get him­self and his crew home safely. His truck wasn’t slid­ing of its own vo­li­tion, but Owens had is­sues of his own.

The first came as he was try­ing to get on I-75 from Pow­ers Ferry Road, via a ramp that goes up a hill. Other driv­ers were try­ing to make the steep climb, when a woman five cars ahead of Owens put a stop to that.

“She got out of her car and went up to peo­ple telling them, ‘You have to turn right,’” Owens said.

Owens took the lady’s ad­vice and cir­cled around Pow­ers Ferry Road onto I-285. There was another hill there, but Owens’ crew, which had been help­ing him in­stall HVAC units, hopped out and helped push. Once go­ing, it took 15 min­utes to go two miles, and they fi­nally got to the I-20 ramp at about 5:30 p.m. af­ter get­ting on I-285 at around 1:45 p.m.

“There was an em­bank­ment, that you never no­tice when go­ing 70 miles per hour, but the only way to get through it was to go on the grass,” Owens said. “The prob­lem was you couldn’t get over to that lane. We were in the out­side lane and started slid­ing. We al­most slid into the wall.”

Owens slammed the brake to the floor, and kept the seem­ingly-in­evitable crash from oc­cur­ring.

“I phys­i­cally had to put my brake on or slide all the way to the con­crete.”

Af­ter that, he got stuck, be­fore his fel­low com­muters jumped out and chis­eled some of the ice away from his tires. From there, it was all gas pedal.

“I gunned it, and must have balded (com­pany owner) Jeff’s tires,” Owens said. “I was go­ing like 100 mph and maybe mov­ing three inches.”

That did the trick, and Owens got go­ing on I-20 pretty good, un­til hit­ting Flat Shoals Road. He wit­nessed a large de­liv­ery truck spin­ning out, with peo­ple dar­ing to pass the out-of-con­trol truck. Af­ter the har­row­ing show, Owens set­tled in, and one of his pas­sen­gers took the op­por­tu­nity to step out of the car and tend to his smok­ing habit about ev­ery 15 min­utes. He wasn’t alone, but there weren’t that many peo­ple ven­tur­ing out­side of their ve­hi­cles, ei­ther, as tem­per­a­tures went be­low 20 de­grees.

The ex­pe­ri­ence for area com­muters lasted hours, and it was a time they never hope to have to go through again.

sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

Newton County res­i­dent Danyielle Reis­ter snapped this pic­ture while she and her hus­band were stuck in frozen traf­fic leav­ing their jobs in At­lanta Tues­day night.

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