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Frozen: State of the South

Aired January 29, 2014 - 23:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And, tonight, thousands remain stranded here in Atlanta and all across the South, as snow and ice catch the Southern states unprepared, at least 10 storm-related deaths reported thus far, the city of Atlanta here brought to an absolute standstill, with some drivers stuck in their cars, just imagine, more than 17 hours, moving an infuriating one-mile-per-hour.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You can't even imagine it, Brooke.

Good evening. I'm Don Lemon in New York.

Six states have now declared a state of emergency in this, the second day of this paralyzing storm. Take a look at scene in Birmingham, Alabama, a man helpless from preventing a sliding car from hitting his, the Southern city absolutely crippled by rare snow.

This is a CNN special, "Frozen: State of the South."

BALDWIN: We begin tonight with the warning signs. They were there. The experts called it. There's a storm coming. The big question, how did it come to this?

We're talking about Atlanta. This is a major city. This is the ninth biggest metropolis in the U.S., crippled by a mere 2.5 inches of snow.

To kick off the special, here is CNN's Martin Savidge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boy, the polar blast that froze the nation's midsection is now attacking its toes.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A winter storm watch issued Monday, upgraded to a warning by 5:00 a.m. Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Switching over to snow.

SAVIDGE: One to two inches of snow in the forecast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Creating major worries for millions of people in areas that do not typically see this kind of winter weather.

SAVIDGE: By 12:00 p.m., the snow is coming down. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it began snowing here about quarter until 12:00. It began accumulating a little bit you can see here on the windshield.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As that snow comes down, what's on the ground is going to be sticking and making things very dangerous and slick.

SAVIDGE: As the snow accumulates in the early afternoon, the government, businesses and schools all close within hours of each other, with little advance notice.

MARK MCKINNON, GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: All the businesses seemed to close at one time, and everybody hit the interstates at the same time and we got gridlock.

SAVIDGE: By 2:00 p.m., a perfect storm of gridlock.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just look at the map, you can see just it's filled up with red. It's jammed around town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolute gridlock madness on I-75.

SAVIDGE: As the roads turn to ice, the interstates and side roads turned into parking lots, by nightfall, motorists already stranded for hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four hours, and I have gone maybe one mile.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to go a total of three miles, and I have been sitting. I have been in my car since 12:30. So, that's, what, almost four hours?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Took me three hours to go about three miles. So, I'm just going to walk the rest of the way home.

SAVIDGE: Trapped in the mass chaos, school buses and emergency crews. Before the day is through, the mayor says he should have staggered the closures.

KASIM REED (D), MAYOR OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA: We do take responsibility for having the business community, the government and our schools basically leave all at once.

SAVIDGE: Some students spend the night at their school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Girls will be sleeping in the band room. Boys will be sleeping in the media room.

SAVIDGE: For others trapped for hours on buses, relief after they finally make it home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was super scared outside. If I don't get home to my parents, I'm like, I'm going to freak out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was scared that I wouldn't see my mom until like 7:00 a.m.

SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, CNN, Atlanta.


BALDWIN: Oh, those little kids, so many stuck in schools overnight.

Let me tell you, it's below freezing, this stuff not going anywhere. Atlanta, you look around on the streets, I mean, it's a virtual ghost town, empty streets tonight, closed businesses, hundreds of abandoned vehicles still.

CNN correspondent Michael Holmes spent the day driving around the streets and the highways of Atlanta.

Michael, tonight, how is it looking? And also, on those abandoned cars littering all the highways, they're all still out there.


You're familiar with this stretch of road. It is 75 North, one of the main roads in Atlanta, and just a few of the thousands and thousands of cars that are still on the side. Martin Savidge mentioned the car park. Well, the car park is on the side of the freeway now, I can tell you.

We have been out and about for the last 10 hours or so driving around. And I can tell you, we have just seen car after car after car. I'm actually surprised a lot of people haven't come back to get their cars today. But they haven't.

Tomorrow, the Department of Transport is setting up a couple of meeting points where people can do, meet up and they will get a ride in a government four-wheel drive back to their vehicle with a tank of gas if they need it and some jumper cables. But, yes, it's a bit of a nightmare here on the side of the road. It's dangerous, too.

BALDWIN: It's icy, Michael. Be careful where you're walking, Michael Holmes out for us out and about in Atlanta.

And, as you just heard, thousands of children were forced to spend the night in their schools or worse, stuck on school buses.

Mike Crawford's 9-year-old son was among them. Mike was stranded on the road for 27 hours, 27, couldn't get his son. He abandoned his car, as any good dad does, walks to school, finally gets there at, what, 5:00 this morning.

And Mike joins me now.

Mike, I guess my first question is this, what blows your mind more? Is it the fact that you were in Atlanta, in a major city, stuck in your car for 27 hours or the fact that your 9-year-old son, Sam, slept at school? MIKE CRAWFORD, FATHER: Well, Sam slept at school, and by the time I got there, I slept at school, too.

It wasn't actually 27 hours on the road. It was just 27 hours away from home. I was on the road, on a single road, Roswell Road, for 14-and-a-half-hours. And there were many times for several hours at a time when we didn't move at all.

BALDWIN: How did -- once you saw your son and I know your son was still there with a couple of kids in similar situations at the school this morning -- how did he take it? How did he handle it?

CRAWFORD: Not as well as I would have liked. He called me a couple of times while I was on my way. He was very upset of course that I wasn't there yet.

But when I got there, he gave me a big hug and then scolded me for being late.


BALDWIN: And post-scolding, how are you feeling, dad? Are you just feeling fortunate that everyone is A-OK in your household? Are you now getting irked, mad, angry?

CRAWFORD: Yes, there were some times yesterday when I was just beyond the point of rational thought. I was so angry.

But, today, I'm a little reflective. And I have to say that I'm just grateful for Ms. Solobka (ph), who is the principal of the Swift School, where Sam goes, and also Ms. Charity (ph), who both spent a great deal of time with him and looked after him when I couldn't.

BALDWIN: I'm glad you mentioned those teachers, so many teachers and principal instrumental in calming these students. Mike Crawford, thank you for talking to me tonight.

Don Lemon, you hear these stories, but it's also those who -- really the Southern hospitality was on full display, taking strangers into their homes because of this.

LEMON: Yes, absolutely. And it brought a lot of people together. This horrific traffic, Brooke, in Atlanta did bring out the best in some people.

One couple even welcomed complete strangers into their homes. They're probably not the only ones who did that.

Robin and Greg Jacobs hosted nearly 30 people, children as well as adults, into their home overnight. They join us now.

Thank you for so much joining us. Did you ever in a million years think that you would be in this position to host so many people in your home?

GREG JACOBS, GEORGIA RESIDENT: It was quite shocking. Actually, I was surprised that we could comfortably accommodate so many people. But, yes, no, that was quite a surprise.

LEMON: Do you think that schools should have been canceled? Do you think that businesses should have let out everyone at the same time? The mayor is saying now that he would have asked to stagger some of that and that may have helped.

G. JACOBS: That's a joke. The schools absolutely should have been canceled. Anybody with an Internet connection saw that there was a 70 percent chance of snow starting at 11:00.

And somebody needed to make the call to cancel the schools. And I just find the leadership of the state and the city I thought was very poor, and, in fact, when you referenced the Southern hospitality, I think frankly that's what made this a survivable experience. There was just a lot of kindness outside, not just in our home, but just everywhere on the streets, people were trying to help everybody.

And that's what got the city through it. The state and the city really needs to look themselves in the mirror.

LEMON: Robin, how did you end up though with so many kids in your home? The school is right down the street from your home, isn't it?

ROBIN JACOBS, GEORGIA RESIDENT: That's how we ended up with so many kids.

We could very easily go back and forth and basically go get more carloads of kids. When we first got our own kids, one friend came home with us. When we realized the no one was going anywhere any time soon, we were calling friends and other parents saying, do you want us to go back and pick up your kids? A few people were like, no, we're on our way. When they realized on our way wasn't happening, we just proceeded and just kept picking up more carloads.

LEMON: How does your street look how, Robin or Greg, either one of you?

G. JACOBS: The people that spent the night here were able to sort of get out mid-afternoon. But there's still cars all along the sides of the streets and the street is not -- it was so iced over this morning that my son was ice skating almost down the street.

LEMON: Oh, my gosh.

G. JACOBS: It is not so solid this morning, but it is still spotty with ice and cars certainly littered throughout, which I suspect will be there through tomorrow afternoon.

LEMON: Robin and Greg, truly two angels, thank you very much. Stay warm, guys.

R. JACOBS: Thanks.

G. JACOBS: Thank you.

LEMON: They're playing the blame game tonight, but who is responsible for Atlanta's traffic nightmare?

We're going to talk to retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore coming up.


LEMON: As expected, lots of finger-pointing and plenty of blame going around in Atlanta tonight.

But the question remains, who should be held accountable for the city's mishandling of the snow and ice storm that crippled Atlanta?

Joining us is now retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore.

Thank you for joining us, General.

You have lots of experience in this. In your estimation, as someone who went through disasters, especially Katrina, what happened here? What went wrong?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, as we always say, Don, the weather had a vote, and it beat the city of Atlanta and Georgia hands down.

Probably too little too late, and not having direct situational awareness and collaboration between the state and the city. They're going to have to do that better. I'm sure they will in the future. But not seeing first, not seeing what's coming, not acting on it, and waiting until they start seeing precipitation fall is way too late, probably 12 to 18 hours too late.

Just to tell you, we faced the same type of weather here in Louisiana, and the state of emergency was called at least 12 to 14 hours before the weather event started.

LEMON: Yes. I have been watching the mayor do interviews all day on different networks. He says now at this hour, 2,000 people are still stranded in the Atlanta area. How is that even possible? And the question is, leadership there, are they in denial about how bad this could have been?

HONORE: In a way, they're lucky.

Think about what would have happened if we had lost electricity, if the ice had done its most ugliest task, and that's turning the lights out. So, that being said, those 2,000 people, that's what they know about. Think about the people who are stuck in their homes and need food and water. And this story could get a lot worse.

Lack of preparedness and starting too late and not paying attention, I think from all the indications I see, we have seen this song played out before. You have got to start early, and you have got to be quick and you have got to keep people off the road before the snowstorm, not think about reacting after the snow stops falling.

And I hope they will re-look at their battle drill, as we call it in this business, and their decision points to act on the left side of the disaster. How you survive a disaster directly relates to how prepared you are. And in this case, with all due respect to those fine government workers there, they did not take enough actions to be prepared.

LEMON: So, in 2011, I remember -- I lived in Atlanta, a seven- year resident of Atlanta. In 2011, there was a huge snowstorm, crippled the city for about five days. One would have thought that they would have learned from that particular situation.

I know that, again, we talked about what you did in Katrina. This is not to that scale, but there are parallels to Katrina and other disasters.

HONORE: Absolutely.

You have got a 19th century response plan in a 21st century city with over five million people. Atlanta and Georgia have got to get off this attitude, well, we only have a snowstorm every few years. You only have a fire every now and then, but you keep the fire trucks. They're going to have to man up and equip that city.

They got part of national security. That airport is a part of our national transportation system. You have got two interstates coming together inside the ninth largest city in the world. They are going to have to grow up, put their big boy pants on and get that city secured and get it ready to operate in all types of weather.

LEMON: Right. Yes. Thank you, General. I appreciate it. General, you, of course, have worked with disasters and preparedness, but no one is talking about Atlanta rejecting a viable mass transit system as well, which probably would have helped in this situation.

Again, our thanks to the general.

Coming up, this could happen to you. Brooke is going to be right back with what you need to know to survive being stranded out in the cold.


BALDWIN: Welcome back to our special tonight. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

So, what should you do? What do you do if you find yourself stranded in a car or just stuck outdoors in the extreme cold?

Joining me now is a survival expert and the host of "Survivorman" on Discovery and the Science Channel, Les Stroud.

So, of all people to get to talk tonight, Les, you're the perfect person.


(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: What would you do? Let's see. Let's see. What would you do if you're stuck in a car for upwards of 12, 14, 16 hours, sunlight is fading, and you're freezing cold?

STROUD: Well, one of the problems I have in answering the question is what I want to say is, you should already be prepared.

You should realize -- I listened to someone on the radio a little while ago saying -- they were blaming the government because of the state of the way things were. I was like, OK, so you're blaming the government because it's wintertime and you're in the winter and there's snow?

So the biggest answer to that question is being out there and already being prepared, having a survival kit in the car, having extra clothing in the car. But what do you do when it happens?

One of the best things I like to prescribe, it's the same thing that happens in the wilderness. You have got stop for a second. You have got to calm yourself down and you have to do your -- I call it the zone of assessment. Your first zone of assessment, you yourself, your body, how are you doing?

Second zone, your immediate surroundings. What have you got? What don't you have? And then your third zone of assessment, what's beyond that?

BALDWIN: That was one of my first thoughts would be beyond the physical things you hope to have your in car, so much of it I know is a mental game. When your phone battery dies and the sunlight goes away, you have to check yourself first and foremost.

But then, secondly, Les, this has really been a wakeup call to a lot of us, because no one is really rolling around with, I don't know, blankets or extra gas in your car on a normal day. What would you recommend to people to always carry?


And you want to ask the question, why aren't they? The thing about having a car, it's like at your car. You don't have to carry any of it. You can have a nice little one of those sort of plastic bins in the back of the car, put some stuff in there, and you never even have to think about it again.

So one of the things I recommend, actually, for the ladies I often say get one of your dad's or your husband's oldest, ugliest coats you can find, throw that in the back, a big heavy one that goes over top of your stuff, so blankets, spare clothing, spare boots. A lot of people aren't traveling with boots because they're going somewhere nice.

But have those boots in the car. Energy food, high-energy food like peanuts, that kind of thing that puts fat -- cheese is really good. Puts fat in your body and starts to get that internal heat going, a flashlight. Some of these things, to me, they seem like common sense. And it's still -- I can't figure out why people don't look at their car and say I have got a mobile packhorse here. I can put stuff in it.


BALDWIN: I will be first to admit tonight, I would be guilty. I would have the blanket, maybe some water. But that's about it.

My final question though to you would be, would you hunker down in the car or would you have gotten out and walked home?

STROUD: You're asking me to answer a question without variables.

The variables matter to everything in that. How far do you have to walk? Can you make it? Is it treacherous or is it easy? You have got to look at -- take all those questions. You answer a whole bunch of questions. Do I have the clothing? Can I -- is it not going to be a big problem? Does anybody know where I am? Answer all those questions first, and then the true answer to your personal situation becomes evident.

BALDWIN: Les Stroud, the Survivorman himself, thank you so much for joining me tonight.

And here's hoping people don't find themselves in similar situations as we experienced here, Don, in Atlanta. Would you have that stuff in your car?

LEMON: I was just going to tell you, people used to laugh at me. You know, we have some of the same friends. They used to laugh at the things I had in my trunk. I had boots. I had a battery charger. I had an air pump.

BALDWIN: There you go.

LEMON: I had a blanket.

BALDWIN: Good for you.

LEMON: Especially after 2011, after that snowstorm in 2011, it was just -- it was unbelievable.


LEMON: But, yes, I did. People called me a hoarder, but I did.


LEMON: So thank you, Brooke.

Listen, Michael Holmes is out on the road in Atlanta. I wanted you to take a look at this. The city is deserted tonight. What can Atlanta and the rest of the South expect over the next few days?

Our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is going to join us with some important information next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: There's Atlanta. Looks empty tonight, doesn't it? And the worst isn't over for that city and the rest of the South just yet. Temperatures keep plummeting.

CNN's meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now from New Orleans.

So, Chad, give us the situation there.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, here it's good.

In Atlanta, it's re-freezing. What melted today is now a frozen ice chunk again. There's still a state of emergency in Atlanta issued there. I just got a new issued one from the National Weather Service. They're saying please stay off the roads, emergency vehicles only. There's no need to be out tonight.

It's the same thing that happened when the snow came down. Then it got down to 18 that night and even colder in some suburbs and everything turned to a sheet of ice. It's no better really tonight than it was a couple days ago, before this happened. I would say stay off the road, please.

LEMON: Brooke Baldwin in Atlanta has a question for you.

BALDWIN: Hey, Chad, let me just jump into this.

MYERS: Sure, Brooke, go ahead.

BALDWIN: Listen, it's not just Atlanta. It's Alabama, Birmingham, similar situations across the South.

I guess, in the 60 seconds we have left, what's the biggest takeaway from this mess?

MYERS: If we have snow coming to a major city, whether it's Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, or any city in the U.S., don't send the kids to school if you know it's going to snow at noon, because then you have to send them home all at the same time.

And all those parents got in the cars. The buses tried to get on the roads. And by the time, it was already slick and things just went downhill from there.

BALDWIN: Yes. That was one of the mistakes the mayor this morning acknowledged, basically blowing the whistle on sending folks home from schools, from government agencies, from businesses all at the same time, and then, boom, you had that mess on the highway, when, as we all know, driving in Atlanta is not fun sans snow. Just imagine what happened -- what happened yesterday.


LEMON: A confluence of the worst events that all happened at the same time, right, Mother Nature, companies, schools, businesses letting people out, going into a vortex on the road.

Thank you very much, Chad Myers.

BALDWIN: All right, Chad, thank you so much for us in New Orleans tonight.

And thank you so much for watching. I'm Brooke Baldwin live in Atlanta.

LEMON: Stay warm, Brooke.

I'm Don Lemon in New York.