Virginia storm leaves motorists stranded on I-95

By Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 6:41 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022
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6:21 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

No people left stranded on I-95, Virginia Department of Transportation says

From CNN’s Amy Simonson

There are no people still stranded on Interstate-95, according to a tweet by the Virginia Department of Transportation Fredericksburg.

“Less than 20 vehicles left to be removed from the interstate before plow trains will come through to remove snow and ice from the travel lanes,” the tweet said.

Numerous motorists had been stuck on the interstate after a storm swept through the area leaving people trapped in their vehicles overnight.

The remaining vehicles have been abandoned, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a briefing Tuesday.

See the agency's tweet:

5:55 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

No fatalities or injuries reported on I-95 as crews continue work to clear interstate 

From CNN’s Amy Simonson

(Steve Helber/AP)
(Steve Helber/AP)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) road crews and state police continue to clear approximately 60 abandoned vehicles on Interstate 95 after rain, snow and ice stranded drivers along a 40-mile stretch, according to state officials.

In a briefing Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he is grateful that that there have been no reports of fatalities or injuries.

The governor said that the perfect storm created an “incredibly unusual event” that resulted in a major backup that’s going to take time to clean up.

“First we had rain, which meant that VDOT couldn't adequately pretreat the roads. Then we had slushy snow that fell a lot faster than our snowplows could move it, and then as the night fell, the temperatures dropped below freezing. All of those together created the perfect storm for what happened on I-95 last night," he said.

Multiple tractor trailers, blocking the highway led to miles of backups with people stuck in their cars for many hours, according to Northam.

“Road crews from VDOT and emergency responders have been working around the clock to tow disabled vehicles and get traffic moving again,” Northam said.

Northam said that the region was not prepared for the weather that swept through the region.

“We were prepared for the storm that was predicted — a few inches of snow, but instead, Mother Nature sent more than a foot of snow to the Fredericksburg area,” Northam said.

VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich said in the briefing that from mile marker 104 to approximately mile marker 153 of I-95 experienced anywhere between eight to 11 inches of snow during a very short window of time.

“Compounding this issue was that we were experiencing, as the storm progressed from west to east, rapid decreases in temperatures that were experienced, including on our pavements.” he said.

“Crews worked day and night, all night last night on this section of roadway and have continued to do so today,” Brich said. He said they will continue to do so not only on I-95 but also on the secondary roads.

Northam said that the state has not called upon the National Guard for assistance because it takes time to deploy them and that their road crews, first responders and emergency management teams are well equipped to handle the situation.

CNN previously reported that VDOT anticipates I-95 to be cleared of vehicles sometime today ahead of tomorrow’s rush hour.

4:16 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Sen. Tim Kaine arrives back at the Capitol after 27 hours on I-95

From CNN's Morgan Rimmer

(CNN)
(CNN)

Sen. Tim Kaine has finally arrived back at the Capitol after being stuck on I-95 since yesterday.

“It wasn't boring, because, you know, it was kind of a survival challenge,” he told reporters. “How do you keep yourself warm?” 

“You have to figure out the strategy, and it's like, turn on the heater full blast, heat the car up, turn it off, and then try to catch some sleep, in about 20 or 30 minutes it gets so cold in the car, then you have to do it again," he said.

He added, “You're like trying to keep fuel. You're trying to research what you can about what the roads will be like when the sun comes up. So it wasn't boring.”

Kaine said he found some camaraderie on the road as well, describing the constellations he saw while walking around with other people trapped on the highway. 

“You’d get out to stretch your legs. It was a clear night. 'Oh, yeah, there's Cassiopeia. There's Orion's Belt. There's the Big Dipper.' You know, we were sharing a gallows experience," he said.

3:20 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Sen. Tim Kaine was on the road for 27 hours in Virginia because of the snowstorm — but he's finally moving now

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine was stuck on Interstate 95 traffic for 27 hours, mired with many other motorists on the road after a snowstorm caused delays and closures.

"We have been just moving at a snail's pace, and there have been at least a couple of times where traffic on the interstate, black ice, when the snow was slushy, and remelted last night, it was very icy. Entire traffic was stopped for five or six hours at a time, and so, you know, we would get out and visit with folks in the cars nearby. I'm driving myself, but other cars are packed with kids or senior citizens, folks coming back from vacations. There was some nice camaraderie, even during a very miserable and extremely cold evening," Kaine said in a phone call to CNN.

He left Richmond, Virginia, at 1 p.m. ET yesterday and was on his way to the Capitol for a voting rights meeting.

Kaine said he's only eaten one orange since Sunday night, given to him by a Connecticut family who were on their way back from Florida.

To save gas, he said he was turning on the heat full blast for about 10 minutes, then turning the engine off and tried to sleep for 20-30 minutes at a time. He credits a good coat and filling up his gas tank in Fredericksburg beforehand for getting him to this point.

Kaine said he's been talking with fellow lawmakers, friends and family via phone.

"I was hoping to make it to the Capitol by a 4:30 meeting, but we'll see if I do," he said.

By the end of the interview, Kaine said he just got back on a reopened portion of I-95, the road is clear and he's driving at 60 mph.

"Now that I'm 90 minutes from the office, I'm planning on eating a lot and using the restroom as soon as I pull in," he said.

2:51 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Trucker offers a stranded stranger a microwaved breakfast during standstill on I-95

From CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji

Trucker Jean-Carlo Gachet said he’s been stuck on Interstate 95 since 1 a.m. ET and wanted to do something for the car stranded next to him.

Gachet said he’s equipped with food and water in his truck and he was more than willing to lend a hand, so he took a microwaved breakfast to the car in front of him around 8 a.m. ET. Gachet said the man and his mother in the car were very thankful.

"He was shocked when he opened the door at first, and you know, I was saying, 'hey, I just made you a hot breakfast and a cup of fruit punch. I saw you were sitting out here the whole time, as long as me, I was here since 1 a.m.' So it was him and his mother, and both of them were really appreciative. It was a really nice moment," Gachet said.

He said he's never experienced a situation like this one.

“Easily the longest traffic jam I’ve been in,” he said. “Second to this traffic jam was a semi-truck accident with multiple vehicles involved, which resulted in an hour of standstill traffic.”

Gachet said he left Rhode Island around 5 p.m. ET yesterday and is en route to Georgia. He is currently in Dale City, Virginia.

As of 2:40 p.m. ET, he is still stuck.

Watch the video:

2:43 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Officials hope to have I-95 cleared today ahead of tomorrow's rush hour

From CNN’s Jennifer Henderson

The Virginia Department of Transportation anticipates Interstate 95 will be cleared of vehicles at some time today, before tomorrow’s rush hour, according to Marcie Parker, district engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation Fredericksburg District.

Parker is leading VDOT’s efforts to clear the interstate, she said during a telephone media briefing. 

Around 4 a.m. ET Tuesday morning, it became clear to officials that the only way they would be able to remove stuck vehicles would be to shut down the interstate, Parker said. There was up to four inches of ice under some vehicles, she added.

“While we were able to clear many different accidents and trucks and move a little bit of traffic, we know that there were still an enormous amount of vehicles that were stuck for many, many hours, which we find completely unacceptable for those folks,” Parker said.

Parker said they did not consider closing I-95 prior to the storm. VDOT was prepared, but the snow was more than they anticipated and fell at a harder rate than expected, she said. When more than an inch an hour falls, it's difficult to move their trucks around fast enough, she said. 

VDOT mobilized on Sunday to bring in and outfit equipment, with workers coming on duty at midnight working 12-hour shifts, Parker said.

Virginia agencies have moved a “nice amount of traffic” off I-95 Tuesday and say the process is going quicker than anticipated, she said. 

Roads were not pre-treated because the weather started with rain and it would have just washed the treatment away, Parker added.

After the roads are cleared, Parker said they will look at what happened and make adjustments to future plans.

Corinne Geller, the public relations director for the Virginia State Police, said her agency started planning in anticipation of the winter storm by extending trooper shifts immediately.

VSP first got calls about a jackknifed tractor-trailer around 8:20 a.m. ET on Monday, which caused a chain reaction of vehicles backing up on I-95, Geller said. 

There have been no reported crashes, just vehicles stuck or disabled, and no traffic deaths or injuries, Geller added.  

1:54 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Truckers were "heroes" to stranded drivers and gave out food, drinks and blankets during jam

Isaac Arcos, a driver who was stuck in Virginia for at least 13 hours after snow caused a massive backup and closures on Interstate 95, said truck drivers were heroes to those stranded on the road.

Arcos was only about an hour away from his destination when he had to stop. He went on Twitter to try to find information and started messaging others in the same situation.

"Truck drivers were reaching out to other drivers as well and saying 'hey, if you're hungry, if you're cold, if you're thirsty, reach out to a truck driver; we always have snacks, we always have extra blankets, we always have extra drinks," Arcos told CNN. "And honestly, truck drivers are the real heroes."

He also said he got stuck on the side of the road for about 10 minutes, but two people helped him by getting out of their vehicles and pushing his car.

Arcos said he had to keep turning off his car to conserve gas and it was very hard to stay warm in below-freezing temperatures.

He is now out of the traffic jam and was able to get gas.

11:48 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Federal government monitoring Virginia I-95 situation

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Federal highway officials say they are in communication with Virginia’s transportation department to help with its response to Monday’s snowstorm that stranded countless drivers on Interstate 95 near Stafford.

In a tweet, the US Department of Transportation says the Federal Highway Administration is in communication with Virginia transit officials “and has asked about their unmet needs, estimated time for reopening, and what their plans are for assisting motorists.”

The Federal Highway Administration will "continue to monitor, ready to assist VADOT as they work to resolve this situation,” the tweet added.

10:00 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Woman stuck for over 9 hours says stranded motorists are "hitting the point of no return"

From CNN's Alisha Ebrahimji

Susan Phalen and her four dogs left her house in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at 8 p.m. last night. At 6:15 a.m. this morning, she was still stuck on Interstate 95 in Virginia due to a huge backup from a severe winter storm.

A man a few cars behind her started his trip at 5:30 a.m. yesterday morning, Phalen said, and is trying to get to Long Island. For Phalen, what was supposed to only be an hour drive, turned into a more than nine hour journey for her.

“This [is] one for the record books,” she said. “I could have walked there faster.”

Phalen joined CNN for an interview this morning and said that people stuck are "hitting the point of no return."    

"We're hitting the point of no return. People are getting out of their cars, hiding behind their car doors and doing their business on the streets. There's no place to go."

See a video Phalen tweeted from the road: