“It was more of a traffic storm than an ice storm,” said Tallon, who spent from around noon on Jan. 28 until late Thursday afternoon at the Douglas County 911 Center keeping residents abreast of all aspects of the storm.
“The main thing was we were caught off guard,” he said. “We knew the storm was coming in but it arrived three to four hours earlier than what we had been told and everyone was caught on the road trying to get home at the same time.”
He said when the snow started falling, everyone, from Douglas County students to business people, tried to get home, which resulted in miles of traffic snarls.
The situation was made worse because many motorists abandoned their cars, which caused further gridlock, Tallon said.
With the storm’s early arrival, school buses and tractor-trailers had the most difficult time with road conditions.
With numerous school buses unable to navigate ice on the roads as they attempted to get students home, drivers who could not complete their routes were told to bring the children back to the nearest school where they would be sheltered.
Between 800 and 900 students were sheltered at about 23 schools at the height of the storm Jan. 28, according to Douglas County Schools spokeswoman Karen Stroud.
By 9 a.m. last Wednesday, that number had been reduced to about 300 students at nine schools.
“We got 96 percent of our kids at home by Tuesday evening and we had absolutely no students stranded on buses for the night,” she said.
Officials with the Douglas County Police and Sheriff’s departments drove a number of students home, Tallon said.
He said the children who were sheltered at schools were served hot meals and allowed to watch movies or play in the school gymnasium.
“The students contacted their parents to assure them they were well and taken care of.”
“Mats were distributed to the children and they slept, with many school officials staying with them that evening inside the school until Wednesday when the remainder of the children were able to get home,” Tallon said.
Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan issued a state of emergency for the county immediately after Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for the storm-ravaged metro area.
By late Wednesday, Tallon said many roads had been cleared by the county, allowing motorists who had abandoned their automobiles on roads throughout the county to retrieve them.
He said, throughout Douglas County, more than 500 vehicles had been abandoned while the 911 center received more than 5,000 calls during and immediately after the storm.
Tallon said the county will be better prepared for upcoming weather emergencies because of lessons taught by last week’s storm.
In a statement released Friday, Douglas County School Superintendent Gordon Pritz said he expressed the school system’s “deepest and most sincere apology for the mistake made in not dismissing school earlier in the day, or closing schools altogether on Jan 28.”
“I think we can all look back on it now and know that should have been done,” he said.
“We never have the intention of putting our students in harm’s way and, in fact, we always strive to make student safety our No. 1 priority.”
Pritz said the weather emergency situations endured by residents, businesses and schools Jan. 28 were both tremendously challenging “and, at the same time, dramatically revealing.”
He said from his experience, events like this reveal the true character of people, “and I am so proud and humbled by the heroes that stepped forward across our county and in our schools.”