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Storm made travel treacherous by land, air

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

The harsh, winter weather conditions that socked north and central Georgia, beginning Sunday night, took a toll on travelers throughout metro Atlanta and the Southern Crescent.

The snow, ice and freezing rain forced motorists to stay off the roads, and hundreds of departing and arriving flights were cancelled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Roads will be icy again today, and motorists should drive with caution -- if they drive at all, said David Spear, press secretary for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"Instead of snow, you'll have ice on roadways [on Tuesday]," said Spear. He said Georgia transportation officials are urging people to stay at home, and avoid driving altogether -- if possible.

"Better yet, take another day off ... go out on Wednesday," he added. Spear said the transportation department is concerned about possible injuries to motorists and damage to their vehicles.

"If people must use their vehicles on Tuesday," he advised, "they should head out at noon, or later, when the sun is shining." He said drivers should use the right-hand lanes on the interstates, because they will likely be mostly clear of ice.

In addition, they should drive no more than 35 mph, on the interstates, and no more than 25 mph on side streets. "Drive a slow steady speed," he said.

Motorists on the interstates should give Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) trucks leeway, said Spear. The gravel being distributed could damage a car's windshield, he said. "Go very slowly. Don't try to pass the trucks," said Spear.

Spear said the interstate system is the main focus of the department, and counties and cities are working on county routes and city streets. He said there are about 200 GDOT trucks clearing the interstates in metro Atlanta, "within any given moment."

As streets in metro Atlanta were covered with snow and frozen slush on Monday, numerous trouble spots on interstates and state and county roads in the south metro area -- including Clayton and Henry counties -- caused delays, and led to accidents.

"It's becoming an ice event on the Southside," said Spear, on Monday afternoon. Particularly troublesome were areas along interstates 75, 285 and 675 in Clayton County, he said. Several vehicles spun out of control on the icy interstates. Trucks that skidded and slid blocked multiple lanes, he added. Spear said he was not aware of any serious accidents that caused major bodily harm or fatalities, however. He said temperatures down in the 20s on Monday evening would make morning driving today potentially treacherous.

Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said airlines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport cancelled a total of 1,900 flights, which were scheduled to arrive or depart on Monday.

She said the negative impact of the winter weather was expected "to last until noon Tuesday, and there would be a "slow recovery after that."

Bergen said cancellations were made because of the de-icing of aircraft, and the upkeep of keeping runways and taxiways clear of snow and ice, which takes a long time.

According to Bergen, the airlines are responsible for keeping ice and snow off of aircraft, and the airport is responsible for the runways and taxiways.

Bergen said the FAA has experienced fewer operations than normal in Atlanta, because of the 1,900 cancelled flights.

On average, the FAA operates between 2,800 and 3,000 departing and arriving flights at the world's busiest airport, she said.

AirTran Airways canceled almost half of its flights, systemwide, with 379 of those flights scheduled to arrive at, or depart from, Hartsfield-Jackson, according to Quinnie Jenkins, AirTran Airways spokeswoman.

According to Jenkins, the low-cost carrier has a total of 700 flights per day, systemwide, which fly to 71 destinations. Jenkins said that, at this time, she is unaware of the number of passengers affected by these cancellations. She said the decision to cancel the flights was due to the snow storm, and the airline felt it was a top priority to keep passengers and crew members safe.

Jenkins added that the cancellations will assist airline employees in preparing to get operations back to normal, on Tuesday.

John Kennedy, a Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman, said the airport was open, operational and functional, during the winter-weather event. "We have kept the runways, taxiways and emergency routes open all night and through the day today; currently, four of the five runways are operating," said Kennedy, on Monday.

"Flight operations have been light today, [however]," he added

Kennedy explained that the airport's roadways, parking lots, concessions and restaurants, remained opened on Monday. He said taxis, hotel shuttle buses and the

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) rail line operated for passengers arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson.