(UPDATED AT 5:00 P.M. THURSDAY WITH FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS CANCELLING CLASSES FRIDAY)
With up to three inches of snow blanketing metro Atlanta Tuesday and keeping residents home or stranded Wednesday, local public school districts dismissed classes early and cancelled all after-school activities Tuesday and cancelled classes for Wednesday through Friday.
Also, many local private schools had early dismissal Tuesday and cancelled classes for Wednesday through Friday.
According to the National Weather Service’s website, the high Thursday is supposed to be 39 degrees and the low is expected to be 17 degrees, with sunny skies. The forecast for Friday is sunny with a high of 51 and a low of 35.
In an email to the media Tuesday at 11:56 a.m., Atlanta Public Schools announced it will dismiss middle schools early, at 1:30 p.m., but have regular dismissal for elementary schools, at 2:30 p.m., and high schools, at 3:30 p.m. On its website, the district announced it cancelled all after-school activities for Tuesday and all classes and activities Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Fulton County Schools announced on its website it has dismissed classes for all schools early Tuesday, at 1:45 p.m. and cancelled all after-school activities for the day and all classes and activities for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
In a message on its website Tuesday afternoon, the Cobb County School District announced it will dismiss all schools two hours early Tuesday and cancel all after-school activities due to the snowstorm. It also announced on its website school will be closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Wednesday morning, as the city still dealt with vehicles stranded or stuck in traffic on major highways due to accidents or icy conditions, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed addressed the issue in an interview with CNN.
When asked if the city is less prepared for this year's storm than the one in January 2011 that kept residents home for nearly a week, he said, "I would say to those citizens you should go back to look at your CNN tape. That's just not true. During the last storm ... the city didn't even have any snow equipment. It took days [to recover]. For the first two days it was kind of funny, like snow days. We were responding immediately. We started de-icing the city before the snow ever fell. We are now in Day 1 of this crisis, and we are fully staffed and running full 12-hour shifts. So as tough as it is right now, it's nowhere near as bad as it was in 2011 when the snow even lasted three or four days, and really candidly, nothing was done because nobody had any equipment. This time we had 30 spreaders, we had 40 snowplows, we had 70,000 tons of sand and gravel. We had it located within the city, and what we're going to do is continue to work and get the city open and operational, and we're going to go out and partner with the state and get folks off the freeway."
In other news, the Fulton County government office emailed the media an update on shelters and others stranded Tuesday night.
"Fulton County Office of Aging staff members are remaining in place to protect six seniors who have been unable to leave the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex Adult Day Program [in Sandy Springs] because of the icy roads," the news release stated. "The seniors will be transported to their homes as soon as road conditions improve to ensure safe travel."
County fire stations are housing other stranded residents in Fulton, and other facilities are housing the homeless.
In a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal gave an update on metro Atlanta students that had been stranded at local schools.
“As you know there were several school systems affected, some more dramatically than others," he said. "Last night at midnight, Fulton County Schools had 99 school buses with children on the roads. By 1:30 this morning it was down to 45 buses and by this morning, there are zero buses on the roads for the Fulton County School system with children on them. Yesterday at 6 p.m. Fulton County Schools had about 25,000 children who were either on buses or in their schools. … By 9 p.m. it was down to 5,000 children either on buses or in schools. And this morning there are no children on buses, and there are about 2,000 of the Fulton County School system’s children that are still in their schools.
"What has occurred to be able to make that dramatic reduction is they have been prioritized in terms of public safety personnel, primarily state troopers and our National Guard. Now those children that are in those schools who we are hoping will be transported as soon as possible, back to their homes, we are having the National Guard and the state troopers working, and the National Guard will provide the lead vehicles as the school buses make their routes to return those children back to their homes.
“In the Atlanta Public Schools system, last evening they had about 1,500 children that were either with them or on buses. By 9 p.m. it was down to a thousand, and this morning there are only about 400. Here again, state troopers and the National Guard will be escorting those children back to their homes or escorting the buses as they attempt to return those children back to their homes.
“… [The] Cobb County [School District], as of 9 o’clock last night, had anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 students [stranded]. Some 320 spent the night overnight in their schools, and once again the National Guard and state troopers are providing escorts so that those children can be returned back to their homes.”
Deal also said the Gwinnett County and Decatur city school districts had no children stranded at schools Tuesday night, adding DeKalb County had only about six students sheltered, in a police precinct. Cherokee County had about 415 children who spent Tuesday night sheltered at their respective schools and only 50 children still stranded there Wednesday morning, Deal said.
The snowstorm also brought out the best in people. In Sandy Springs, six venues served as temporary shelters for 320 people stranded by the weather and subsequent traffic. Mayor Rusty Paul, who with his wife Jan and son Andrew visited the shelter at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, said he was pleased with the support he got from residents.
“One of the amazing things was when I walked into the shelter and people knew who I was, they were thankful we had set up those emergency shelters,” Paul said. “We had all the fire stations, [the] Hammond Park gym, Holy Innocents’, Congregation Or Hadash, Davis Academy [serve as shelters] and a lot of businesses, such as grocery stores, and people took people into their homes. They were just so thankful of our police [department], our fire [department] and having a place to get out of the weather. I got an email from one of the families in the Holy Innocents’ shelter. They had stopped and could not go any further and parked in the Holy Innocents’ parking lot and were expecting to have to stay in their car or walk from there until they saw the door was open.” As well as things went in Sandy Springs, Paul did have some bad news. His daughter Emily was in a car wreck in the snow, his son Russ, who lives near Grant Park, fell on the ice and broke his leg, and his mother, Dell Paul, of Birmingham, Ala., fell at her home and injured her back. With that city’s roads also crippled by the snowstorm, luckily a cousin was able to drive an ATV to her house to help her, the mayor said.
There were other good deeds in Sandy Springs. In an email to the media last week, Capt. Steve Rose, a spokesman for the Sandy Springs Police Department, said a baby girl was born on the side of Interstate 285 Tuesday at about 5:25 p.m., with help from Officer Tim Sheffield and the father.
“The delivery was done in the parents’ car that was stranded on I-285 near Riverside Drive,” Rose said. “The delivery appears to have been without complications and EMS personnel arrived minutes later.”
Not far from where the baby was delivered, six students at nearby Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School took food to a stranded motorist on Interstate 285 at Riverside Drive in Sandy Springs.
At E. Rivers Elementary School, located at the old Sutton Middle School campus in Buckhead, neighbor Tom Lines drove stranded children home in his four-wheel-drive truck and neighbor Clodagh Swennumson made food for children and adults for lunch Wednesday, with some provided by nearby Horseradish Grill and its owner, Steve Alterman.
At another Buckhead school, Sutton Middle, Principal Audrey Sofianos praised the efforts of good Samaritans, including bus drivers, in an emailed newsletter.
“My heart is full of gratitude for our entire school community and Sutton neighbors,” she said. “I am sorry that students, families, and staff went through scary and very lengthy bus or car rides.
“At Sutton, we had only one student still at school at 9 p.m. [Jan. 28], with arrangements made for him to stay at a Sutton student’s home nearby. Thank you to the Ghosh family, who live just up the street from SMS, for taking in this stranded student!”
Parents also thanked neighbors and parents for helping vehicles break free of the ice and for taking in students at their homes. Even students got into the act.
“My stepdad, Will Brooks, is a hero!” Sutton sixth-grader Maxwell Oglesby said. “At 8:20 [p.m. Jan. 28], I was still on the bus, more than three hours after leaving school. Will and my friend Will Foster’s mom, Jennifer Foster, walked for miles to bring me my winter coat and gloves and then walk us home.
“Once we were safe, Will went back out into the storm to rescue our nanny, and then helped push cars that were stuck in the ice and snow. He walked an additional five miles helping stranded people and did not get home until after midnight! I am so lucky to have him!”
In a letter Friday to students, teachers, parents and the community, North Atlanta High School Principal Gene Taylor thanked the 41 employees who stayed at the school while 417 students were stranded there last week.
“Finally, by 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, after 24 hours of being stranded, our brave bus drivers had successfully forged their way through abandoned vehicles on roads and highways that were still challenging to navigate in order to deliver our students home safely,” he said. “One driver, of bus No. 730, heroically came back to pick up and deliver three loads of students!
“In my 26 years as an educator, with the last 11 being in school administration, I have never had to lead in a situation such as the one we faced this week. However, I can honestly say that I have also never felt as blessed and thankful as an educator than I do now reflecting back on this situation.”
At Stars and Strikes, a bowling alley/restaurant/bar/arcade in Sandy Springs, General Manager Adam Clark opened that location Tuesday night as a makeshift shelter. He coordinated with the Sandy Springs Police Department to bring more than 75 stranded motorists stuck along Roswell Road and other nearby streets.
Also in Sandy Springs, the Fairfield Inn & Suites Atlanta Perimeter Center on Hammond Drive Tuesday night hosted many families who could not make it home due to the road’s icy conditions. Though the hotel was at full occupancy, the staff did its best ensure the comfort of those without hotel rooms by providing lines, phone chargers, etc.
One couple had recently been released from St. Joseph’s Hospital after the man had heart surgery. Looking for a place to fill their prescription, they called down to front desk for advice. Unfortunately, nothing was open. Derrick Cody from the front desk called the hospital to speak with staff himself to see if they could send a shuttle to pick up the medication, but his efforts were denied. So at 3 a.m., Cody, who was assisted by hotel associate associate Anissa Teal, walked from the hotel a mile and a half each way to pick up the medication from the hospital for this guest.