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'I need help -- I can't do this anymore': Stranded drivers tell their stories

By Holly Yan and Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
updated 2:40 PM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
A rare snowstorm left thousands of motorists trapped on Atlanta interstates overnight. "Thank God I walk to work everyday," said <a href='http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1079053'>Doug Simonton</a>, who snapped this photo Tuesday afternoon. A rare snowstorm left thousands of motorists trapped on Atlanta interstates overnight. "Thank God I walk to work everyday," said Doug Simonton, who snapped this photo Tuesday afternoon.
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Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from Atlanta
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from Atlanta
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from Atlanta
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
Stranded in the snow: Scenes from the South
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 25,000 people join a Facebook group to connect the stranded in metro Atlanta
  • Mom on road for 12 hours before she and son find refuge with family
  • Some report relatives missing after night on the road

Watch Frozen: State Of The South on CNN at 11 p.m. ET Wednesday.

(CNN) -- No one imagined a thin sheet of ice could wreak this much havoc.

Paralyzed by the glaze and gridlock, countless drivers in the Deep South spent the night shivering in their cars, unable to get home after more than half a day ... and counting.

Here are some of their stories:

Stuck en route to a funeral

Tammy Jocelyn was on a journey she didn't want to have to make -- she was en route to a funeral when her Greyhound bus stopped cold on an Atlanta interstate Tuesday night. As of twelve hours later, Jocelyn and other passengers were still stuck on the bus.

"I really hope I make it up there in time," the Jacksonville, Florida, woman told CNN Wednesday morning. "This isn't something I've ever experienced."

She's not sure where she is, just that she was on I-75 heading north when traffic stopped moving at 10 p.m.

"There are hundreds, maybe thousands of motorists with me," Jocelyn said. "You look out the window and see people in the middle of the interstate sleeping in their cars."

The mood on the bus is calm, despite there being no food or water on board, she said. Jocelyn still has a long way to go; her final destination is Chicago.

"The weather is clear. That's the worst part about it. The sun will melt the snow before anyone comes to save us."

Children stuck in schools, on buses

Desperation and kindness

In the 12 hours that Ashley McCants contended with the ice and traffic, her SUV careened into a ditch twice.

A car lies half submerged in the Cahaba River in Mountain Brook, Alabama, on Thursday, January 30. The driver was able to escape before the car slid into the river during a snow storm on Tuesday and was not injured. A wave of arctic air that started over the Midwest and Plains spread to the Southeast, bringing snow, freezing ice and sleet to a region that doesn't deal with such weather very often. A car lies half submerged in the Cahaba River in Mountain Brook, Alabama, on Thursday, January 30. The driver was able to escape before the car slid into the river during a snow storm on Tuesday and was not injured. A wave of arctic air that started over the Midwest and Plains spread to the Southeast, bringing snow, freezing ice and sleet to a region that doesn't deal with such weather very often.
Freezing temperatures sweep U.S.
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Photos: Freezing temperatures sweep U.S. Photos: Freezing temperatures sweep U.S.
Students struck by weather finally home
Students get snow day, start snow fight

It took her five hours to pick up her son from school. They spent another seven hours in the car, trying to get to their Atlanta home several miles away.

The day dragged into night. Finally, the sight of a nine-car wreck sent her over the edge.

"At that very moment, I thought, you know what, I need help -- I can't do this anymore. I need to get home."

So she vented her frustration on Facebook, and friends directed her to the page SnowedOutAtlanta. Within hours of the storm, more than 25,000 people joined the Facebook group to connect the stranded with those who might be able to provide shelter or supplies.

"I actually had a very nice, sweet family that took my son and I in," McCants said.

But to get to that home, she had to carry her 5-year-old son about 2 miles across the snow and ice.

"My big takeaway is don't give up. I sat in this traffic for 12 hours. It was all about faith and believing," McCants said. "There are good people all over the city no matter what. There were so many people willing to help me and my son, and I feel so blessed to be taken in by this family, even though it was a brutal day."

Thousands stranded for hours

Awake for 27 hours

In his almost 20 years of being a truck driver, Greg Shrader has never been in a pickle quite like this. He had been stuck on Interstate 20 west of Atlanta for 23 hours and counting, as of noon Wednesday.

The trucker from Maine said he had given up on getting to Alabama, where he was supposed to pick up a load of cars from a Mercedes plant. All he wanted was somewhere safe to pull over and take a nap -- he had been up for 27 hours straight.

"You don't want to go to sleep in the truck because if traffic moves, you're part of the problem," Shrader said.

When he heard CNN's interview with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on the radio, he said he "almost lost my mind." The mayor blamed the city's gridlock on decisions by schools and businesses to send people home at the same time.

"I've hauled cars for 18 years, 48 states and Canada. I have never been failed by officials like I have here," he said. "Still no equipment, no well-being check. No plan. I guess we're waiting for it to melt."

At least for now Shrader has snacks. He has been snacking on Planter's peanuts he happened to have in his cab, he said.

Was Atlanta asleep at the wheel?

Sleeping outside Taco Bell

Mariano Castillo left work Tuesday afternoon. By midnight, he gave up and called it a night outside a Taco Bell.

"Nine hours in traffic and barely halfway home from the office," said Castillo, an editor at CNN. "Some stretches of highway looked like a vehicle graveyard, abandoned cars and stranded big rigs at irregular intervals."

During those hours, he witnessed acts of selflessness.

"I saw good Samaritans who helped ladies get up after a fall or push cars whose tires squealed with effort to grip the road. Others, I could tell, would not bend a finger to aid anyone if it meant giving up an inch of road.

"At one particularly gridlocked stretch, folks were able to leave their cars and walk to a CVS for supplies. You definitely were in the 'in' crowd tonight if you held your plastic CVS bag and its treasures like a designer handbag. ... Even I found myself looking hungrily at those with the plastic bags."

Then getting home was no longer a priority. Getting food was.

"I have given up my stubborn plan to make it home and have a cup of hot cocoa no matter the time," he said. "I found a 24-hour Taco Bell, spent my last $5 on a quesadilla and am closing my eyes in my trusty RAV4. I wonder what I will awake to."

Missing family members

Ana Maria Martinez said some of her relatives were still missing Wednesday morning.

"We haven't heard from our cousin and her two daughters since yesterday at 7. ... Their cell phones died," Martinez said. "They're in a dark blue Audi A6. ... The girls are 5 and 14. ... We would love to hear from someone who may have seen them to make sure they are OK."

Tonya Derr Buchter can relate to the agony.

"(Thirteen) hours and still no word on my son," she said on Facebook. "Hang in there everyone (it's) been tough."

Pregnant and stranded

"(Nine) months pregnant on Thornton Road and Factory Shoals. Haven't eaten since 10 a.m. yesterday. Can't move my car due to the ice," Regina E. Coley wrote Wednesday morning on SnowedOutAtlanta.

"I tried calling for an ambulance but there's a major accident and they can't get down to me. (M)y car is out of gas and I'm starting to get cold, dehydrated and hungry. Please help!!"

Cathi Milanes was one of the many Atlantans who offered up her home.

"I live right on the corner of two major highways, so I figured I was in a convenient location," Milanes said. "I had an extra room and a bed, so it was a no-brainer to help."

By midnight, no one had taken up her offer -- in part because some couldn't reach her home.

One man got in an accident during the storm and injured his knee, Milanes said.

"His sister posted (about) him -- he was literally walking distance from my place," Milanes said. But because of his injury, "he couldn't walk to me if he tried."

Fortunately, she said, another good Samaritan picked up the injured man and took him home.

CNN's Faith Karimi, Katie Hawkins-Gaar, Daphne Sashin and Henry Hanks contributed to this report.

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