Motorists have been stranded on a major interstate in Virginia since last night
(CNN) — Drivers have been stranded for hours on Interstate 95 in eastern Virginia — some from Monday into Tuesday morning — because of a severe winter storm that has sent authorities scrambling to clear a path.
The vehicles were stuck on portions of a 50-mile stretch of I-95 in the Fredericksburg area, between Richmond and Washington, DC, partly because of disabled trucks blocking the way in snowy and icy conditions, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.
Among those stranded in the area: U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who said he was still stuck in traffic at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday — 19 hours after starting his drive. He did not specify what road he was on; many secondary roads in the region also were blocked by downed trees or wintry conditions, authorities said.
“I started my normal 2 hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol,” Kaine tweeted, posting a picture from behind a windshield, showing three trucks ahead.
Other motorists expressed frustration on social media as they sat in vehicles on I-95, unable to move and worried about below-freezing overnight and morning temperatures after a storm that dropped more than a foot of snow in the Fredericksburg area and left more than 400,000 customers in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast without power.
By 7 a.m. Tuesday, Susan Phalen and her four dogs had been stuck on I-95 just south of Stafford for more than 10 hours, and there were no signs that traffic in her northbound lanes would move soon.
Phalen had left her home in Fredericksburg around 8 p.m. Monday for a trip that she expected to last just an hour, she said.
“This one for the record books,” she told CNN on Tuesday morning. “I could have walked there faster.”
She said she started with a full tank of gas, and has been able to keep her car running for heat. Temperatures in the area dipped into the teens overnight.
“A lot of people … in the vicinity where I am have been turning their cars off to save gas, and then they’ll turn the car back on to heat it up a bit,” she told CNN by phone.
Authorities closed that 50-mile stretch — between exit 104 near Ruther Glen and exit 152 near Dumfries — so workers could remove stopped trucks and treat the road for snow and icing, VDOT said.
In the jammed stretches, workers are trying to guide motorists to nearby interchanges, VDOT said. Some travelers have been stuck since Monday morning, VDOT said.
Motorists with medical or life-threatening emergencies should call 911, VDOT said on Twitter.
“Please provide the make & model of your vehicle, as well as the nearest mile marker. Please stay inside the vehicle,” VDOT tweeted.
‘This is unprecedented’
An emergency message will be going to all stranded drivers on I-95 to put them in contact with support, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted Tuesday.
Local and state emergency personnel are assisting disabled vehicles, clearing downed trees and rerouting drivers, he tweeted.
The commonwealth is also working to set up warming shelters with localities, the tweet says.
“This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes,” VDOT Fredericksburg engineer Marcie Parker said.
“As VDOT removes disabled vehicles, and plows/treats road to make it safe for passage as they are removed, (Virginia State Police) troopers will reach each driver,” VDOT said.
The Fredericksburg area received at least 14 inches of snow from the storm, according to the National Weather Service in the Baltimore/Washington area. Fredericksburg sits between Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
An estimated 20 to 30 trucks were stuck on I-95 northbound near the Thornburg exit, according to VDOT, which said towing crews were on the scene.
On the southbound side, stuck and disabled trucks were blocking traffic on the interstate in Stafford, VDOT reported.
“We know people have been stopped for extraordinary time periods leading up to these closure areas, but we are clearing trucks one by one to break through this blockage, and we will get to each driver and restore traffic flow,” Kelly Hannon, spokesperson for the VDOT Fredericksburg District, told CNN.
“Crews continue to work intensely to tow vehicles that are stuck and blocking the interstate near mile markers 136 in Stafford County, and then plow and treat the interstate to prevent follow-on crashes,” Hannon said. “This is also occurring where traffic remains stopped on Interstate 95 northbound at mile marker 117 in Spotsylvania County.”
Power outages have knocked out traffic cameras in the area of I-95 near Fredericksburg where travel is stalled, hindering VDOT’s response, Hannon said.
CNN en Español correspondent Gustavo Valdés was among those stuck in traffic. He said when he stopped for gas around 6 p.m., his GPS said he was two hours from Washington. By 1 a.m. Tuesday, he still hadn’t arrived.
Valdés said he exited the highway near Quantico, Virginia, but the side roads were also jammed. Route 1A, which runs parallel to I-95 in the area, was blocked by jackknifed trucks, which were preventing snowplows from getting through.
Valdés said he considered pulling to the side of the road to spend the night in his car because he couldn’t find an available hotel room, but traffic had started moving again.
Some four-wheel-drive vehicles helped create new paths through the snow for other vehicles to follow, he said.
While traffic was snarled on the interstate, drivers were also urged to stay off local roadways as dozens of traffic signals were out of service due to power outages, officials said.
More than 400,000 customers were in the dark Tuesday morning from Georgia to Maryland, with nearly 300,000 outages reported in Virginia alone, according to PowerOutage.US.
Further north on I-95, federal government offices in Washington, DC, are opening with a three-hour delay Tuesday after being shuttered Monday due to the weather. The district recorded 8.5 inches of snow Monday, the heaviest one-day snow total since January 2016, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. Capitol Heights, Maryland, recorded 11.5 inches of snow and Baltimore/Washington International Airport reported 6.7 inches.
It could take several weeks for all that snow to melt, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said, explaining that the white layer of snow cover reflects sunlight, essentially acting as a coolant that prevents the ground surface from warming enough to melt it.
On average, it takes about three days of temperatures above 50 degrees for about 2 to 4 inches of snow to melt, Javaheri said, and the Washington area is forecast to stay below that mark through at least the end of the week.
3 killed when SUV collided with snowplow, officials say
Three deaths were reported in Maryland after an SUV with four occupants collided with a snowplow, according to Shiera Goff, spokesperson for the Montgomery County Police Department. Two women and one man were pronounced dead at the scene, Goff said, and a fourth victim, a man, was taken to an area hospital where he is in critical condition.
The investigation into the cause of the collision is ongoing, Goff said.
In the Southeast, two children were killed by falling trees Monday morning, officials said.
In Georgia, a 5-year-old boy in the Atlanta area died when a tree fell on his home during gusting winds, DeKalb County Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Jaeson Daniels told CNN affiliate WSB. The boy’s mother was safely rescued, the outlet reported.
The ground in the area was saturated by recent rainfall, Daniels told WSB. The NWS in Atlanta warned of possible wind gusts from 40 to 50 mph Monday morning.
And in Tennessee, a 7-year-old girl died early Monday morning when a tree fell on her home in the Knoxville area, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office told CNN affiliate WVLT.
“There are trees down all over the county, particularly here in Townsend, because we are right at the foothills of the Great Smoky National Park,” BCSO Public Information Officer Marian O’Briant told WVLT. “There are a lot of trees; it was kind of a wet heavy snow, so trees are still falling right now.”
CNN has reached out to DeKalb County Fire Rescue and the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.
Winter weather also slowed travel in New Jersey, where state police reported 160 accidents and 245 motorist requests for aid, according to Col. Patrick Callahan, the state police superintendent.
In Atlantic City, 9.5 inches of snow was reported.
Southwestern New Jersey received between 1 and 4 inches of snow, while the southeastern part of the state got somewhere between 6 to 11 inches, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
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