A rare winter storm has gripped the Southern part of the United States killing at least five people, stranding children overnight at their schools and shutting down airports and entire cities.
Winter Storm Leon caught many Kenyans in the Metro Atlanta area by surprise when it roared into the deep South Tuesday afternoon causing massive traffic jams and the cancellation of over 3,000 flights.
On Wednesday, the Nation caught up with at least a dozen Kenyans who were stranded at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. “My family and I were travelling to Kenya via Amsterdam but no plane was departing from this airport. We were forced to spend the night here,” said Lilian Ogeti who was accompanied by her husband and three children.
But Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed sought to assure the families that the situation would improve in the next two days. “Thousands are stranded at the airport and we are doing our best to resume normal services,” he told a media briefing in Atlanta Wednesday morning.
Spent the night in their cars
Many Kenyans spent the night in their cars Tuesday night after they were caught up in the traffic snarl up witnessed on all the major roads in the State of Georgia.
“Thousands of us got stuck on the road in this frigid weather because motor vehicles stopped moving at around 11 PM last night,” said Peter Kuria, a resident of the city of Marietta in Georgia.
On Tuesday, businesses and schools closed early, sending hundreds of thousands of people onto the snowy roads at the same time. The roads were crowded, commute times jumped, and people who ran out of fuel on the road were forced to ditch their cars and walk.
“It is the worst storm I have experienced for the ten years I have lived here,” said Edith Muriithi who spent six hours driving home from work – a distance of three Kilometres.
Authorities rescued about 50 schoolchildren in Atlanta, whose buses were stranded overnight on an icy roadway, district officials said.
Hundreds of other students remained sheltered in schools and other locations, their parents unable to reach them after being stuck in an epic traffic snarl that has continued for more than 24 hours.
Most Kenyans who spent the night in the cold weather used the social media to update family and friends of the situation they were in. “I’m spending the night at a friend’s house, it’s safer that way,” wrote Esther Wairimu Seaman on her Facebook wall.
Five deaths in Alabama were blamed on the icy storm that slammed the region from Texas through Georgia and the Carolinas.
Some school districts in Alabama and Georgia thought the roads were too dangerous for buses, and had no choice but to keep kids overnight.
Officials from Georgia Metrological department said Wednesday that the situation would not change until Thursday afternoon. “The headaches will continue all over the Southeast on Wednesday,” said a statement released by the Georgia governor’s office.
Forecasters predicted little relief from the ice and snow on Wednesday, with temperatures unlikely to rise much above freezing for long enough to thaw roads and bridges, before freezing again early Thursday across the Southeast.
In Virginia, up to 10 inches of snow fell overnight in some parts of the state, said meteorologists at Accuweather.com. Two inches of sleet pelted North Carolina by Wednesday morning.
In Birmingham, Alabama, about 800 students remained stranded in their schools early Wednesday, City Mayor William Bell said that teachers stayed with them, giving them food and water.