January 30, 2014 / 1:41 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 4-Politicians under fire as icebound U.S. South gets relief

(Adds quote from Georgia news conference)
    By David Beasley
    ATLANTA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - City and state leaders admitted
missteps on Thursday in their handling of a rare ice storm that
swept across the U.S. South, killing at least 14 people,
snarling traffic and setting off a barrage of criticism from
Atlanta residents.
     Warmer weather brought some relief to the region on
Thursday after Tuesday's storm stranded commuters on slick
highways for up to 24 hours and trapped hundreds of children in
schools overnight.
    In the aftermath, residents have criticized elected leaders
from both political parties for allowing 2 inches (5 cm) of snow
to bring to a standstill a city that is home to more than 5
million people heavily reliant on car travel.   
    "I am a disappointed parent and taxpayer," said Stacy
Shipman, 43, a corporate trainer in Atlanta. "Someone should
have prepared the city for what a mass exodus of 1.2 million
people would do to our travels."
    Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican running for
re-election this year, angered many - including local
meteorologists - when he described the storm late Tuesday as
"unexpected." 
    After the avalanche of criticism, the governor on Thursday
took responsibility for the slow response and vowed to conduct a
review aimed at improving procedures.
    "I'm not going to look for a scapegoat," Deal told a news
conference. "Our preparation was not adequate."
    Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat who easily won a second
term last fall, was mocked for his Tweet on Tuesday that said:
"Atlanta, we are ready for the snow."
    In interviews on Thursday, Reed said government and school
leaders shared responsibility for the errors. He pointed out
that roads within Atlanta city limits were quickly cleaned up
and said city officials did not have jurisdiction over state
highways in the area.
    Charley English, director of the Georgia Emergency
Management Agency, said he made a "terrible error in judgment"
by not acting more quickly to open the state's center that
coordinates emergency response efforts.
    "I got it wrong by at least six hours," he said. "In the
future, rest assured, when forecasts change, there will be a
much more aggressive response."
    In one case, a woman delivered her baby girl in a car when
she could not reach the hospital in time because of gridlock on
an interstate north of Atlanta. 
    Across the region of about 60 million people unaccustomed to
ice and snow, traffic froze for miles as the storm rolled in on
Tuesday. Thousands of motorists found themselves stuck in
nightmarish commutes as schools, businesses and government
offices sent everyone home around the same time.
    The storm-related chaos could come back to haunt Deal at the
polls, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at
the University of Georgia.
    A challenger for the Republican nomination for governor -
Dalton, Georgia mayor David Pennington - took aim at Deal's
leadership. Deal's likely Democratic opponent, Jason Carter, a
grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, could find the
criticism to be effective with independent voters.
    "If they spent many, many hours stuck in a car or sleeping
on the floor at Home Depot, it might well resonate with them,"
Bullock said.    
    
    SOME RELIEF EXPECTED
    Some residents were more willing to cut leaders some slack.
    Patty McIntosh-Mize, a 49-year-old mediator in Atlanta, said
she wondered whether taxpayers wanted to foot the bill for
costly preventative measures and equipment in an area rarely hit
by bad weather.
    "And if we are not willing to pay that price, then I would
ask, 'Are we all willing to share some of the responsibility for
when things like this happen?'" she said.
    Schools and government offices remained closed on Thursday
in Atlanta, and the Public Schools system there announced it
would be closed again on Friday.
    Early on Thursday, it was an unseasonably cold 16 degrees
Fahrenheit (-9 C). But later in the day, temperatures were
expected to climb to the mid- to upper-30s Fahrenheit (2 to 4
Celsius) in Georgia and would get gradually warmer into the
weekend, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen
Corfidi. 
    Other parts of the storm-affected Southeast are also
expected to warm up and, by Sunday, some areas could see
temperatures in the low 60s F (15 to 17 C).
    "Certainly, the worst is over," Corfidi said.
    The deadly storm stretched from Texas, through Georgia and
into the Carolinas. At least five fatalities in Alabama, two in
Georgia, five in Mississippi and two in North Carolina were
blamed on the weather. 
    Emergency officials responded to hundreds of traffic
accidents across the region, and thousands of U.S. flights were
canceled or delayed.
    In Alabama, the weather forced some 11,300 students to spend
the night at their schools on Tuesday, a state education
department spokesman said.
    Officials in Shelby County, Alabama, said many roads
remained impassable on Thursday because of ice and some were
still blocked by cars that had been abandoned during the storm.
    A pastor in Jefferson County said the home of one of his
church members burned to the ground when firefighters' access
was blocked by an abandoned car.

 (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Karen
Brooks in Austin, Texas; Verna Gates in Birmingham, Alabama;
Kevin Gray in Miami; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by
Gunna Dickson)

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