Weather clobbers Maconites in Atlanta

mlee@macon.comJanuary 29, 2014 

ATLANTA -- The crippling ice and snow that Macon dreaded clobbered an unprepared northern Georgia, freezing midstate residents who were trying to get work done.

“I moved five miles in 14 hours in Birmingham,” Ala., said Shep Bickley, a Macon man who was trying to drive home from Arkansas but hit a roadblock of ice and traffic.

What’s normally an eight-hour drive for him lasted 29 hours. All the hotels were already full on Interstate 20 when he had to stop Tuesday night and sleep in his car. “I don’t know how many wrecks I saw,” he said.

Bickley and countless other drivers were caught up in a storm that hit north Georgia about noon Tuesday, throwing Atlanta and Birmingham businesses, schools and governments into a scramble to dismiss and go home. Wrecks followed, and interstates became parking lots as people abandoned vehicles to seek shelter and food.

The weather report predicted clear weather on Bickley’s Birmingham-to-Atlanta route. But once it started snowing, he said, “in 45 minutes it was a disaster.”

State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, was at the state Capitol in Atlanta about noon Tuesday when the snow started falling as fast as glitter in a snowglobe. Most committees had cancelled work an hour before. Lawmakers, staff and lobbyists were already wrapping up in coats and hats and heading out.

She fled too, driving to Publix before turning to her downtown pied-à-terre, a trip of about three miles.

“It was about two hours and 15 minutes,” she said.

Wednesday afternoon, some Atlanta commuters were still trapped by traffic, reaching nearly 24 hours on their journeys home.

A trip that should take 20 minutes took Charles Koplin about two hours. The government and public affairs manager for Schnitzer Steel in Macon also left downtown Atlanta in the early afternoon headed for a hotel eight miles away.

“Compared to the commute and misery for so many others, mine was nothing,” Koplin said Wednesday.

Randall’s colleague, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, spent the night at his Atlanta apartment, then walked the few blocks to his Capitol office.

He tweeted a picture of the nearly empty building Wednesday. “This is not what the Georgia state Capitol normally looks like at 10 a.m. during the session,” he wrote.

By early afternoon, he decided to attempt a drive to Macon.

“It was a breeze coming home, no trouble at all,” he said.

The state Capitol sits on I-75/85 on the south edge of Atlanta and the interstate was relatively clear of the gridlock that blocked the northern suburbs.

The state government will remain closed Thursday.

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