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Atlanta mayor: Early city exodus due to snow crippled traffic

By Jason Hanna and Ralph Ellis, CNN
updated 11:50 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "If I had my druthers, we would have staggered the closures," Kasim Reed says
  • Roughly 2 inches of snow made virtual parking lots out of roads, highways Tuesday afternoon
  • Reed says Atlanta city road crews began pretreating streets at 9 a.m. Tuesday

(CNN) -- Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday defended the city's handling of a snowstorm that crippled traffic and left motorists stranded for hours a day earlier, and partly blamed local businesses, saying they contributed to gridlock by letting workers leave at the same time.

Reed pointed out good things his administration did during a sometimes testy exchange with Carol Costello on "CNN Newsroom on Wednesday Morning."

"We got a million people out of the city," Reed said. "We have not had any fatalities. We cleared the way of all of our hospitals, all of our police stations."

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Costello cut in to say, "Well, I heard this from public officials before, 'We didn't have any fatalities,' but that was just by the grace of God. There were a thousand traffic accidents. People got out of their cars on icy roadways in frigid conditions to walk home."

"That's easy to say from your anchor seat," Reed said.

"No, I was out stuck in the traffic," Costello said. "I was one of those people."

Reed said schools and businesses let people go at roughly the same time early Tuesday afternoon as the snow was starting. That was too much for the roads to handle, he said.

"I said immediately yesterday that releasing all of these folks was not the right way to go," Reed said to Costello. "If I had my druthers, we would have staggered the closures."

Roughly 2 inches of snow left the roads icy, making virtual parking lots out of streets and highways. Many people, including students on school buses, were stranded in vehicles overnight.

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Reed said Atlanta city road crews began pretreating streets at 9 a.m. Tuesday, ahead of the day's snowfall.

He said city crews -- which have 30 spreaders and 40 snowplows -- had finished treating "Priority 1" areas such as bridges and exits, and their current focus is helping state crews clear the freeways.

Stranded drivers tell their stories

He told Costello the road treatment has been better than in January 2011, when "the city was closed for two to three days" because of a winter storm.

"The city didn't even have snow equipment in the last storm," Reed said, later adding that it had "four pieces of equipment" in 2011. Now, he said, besides the sand- and salt-spreaders and snowplows, the city has a crew that has "been working nonstop in 12-hour shifts."

At the news conference, Reed said 791 vehicle accidents -- "14 with injuries" -- were reported in the city since Tuesday's snowfall. He said city firefighters have supported 115 people, including stranded motorists.

Asked what he wanted to say to parents of children who stayed in schools overnight after Tuesday's snowfall, he said: "What I want to say to them is hold off on trying to get to them. What I can assure (you of) is they are safe."

He added: "The safest place for them was in the school system. ... I know it is very tough, but we're going to make sure we're going to get the roads open. ... But right now, we (need people to stay off the roads)."

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