ATLANTA — Thousands of Atlanta students stranded all night long in their schools were reunited with their parents Wednesday, while rescuers rushed to deliver blankets, food, gas and a ride home to countless shivering motorists stopped cold by a storm that paralyzed the business capital of the South with less than 3 inches of snow.
As National Guardsmen and state troopers fanned out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal found themselves on the defensive, acknowledging the storm preparations could have been better. But Deal also blamed forecasters, saying he was led to believe it wouldn’t be so bad.
The icy weather wreaked similar havoc across much of the South, closing schools and highways, grounding flights and contributing to at least a dozen deaths from traffic accidents and a mobile home fire.
Yet it was Atlanta, home to major corporations and the world’s busiest airport, that was Exhibit A for how a Southern city could be sent reeling by winter weather that, in the North, might be no more than an inconvenience.
The mayor admitted the city could have directed schools, businesses and government offices to stagger their closings on Tuesday afternoon, as the storm began, rather than dismissing everyone at the same time.
The result was gridlock on freeways that are jammed even on normal days. Countless vehicles were stranded and many of them abandoned. Officials said 239 children spent Tuesday night aboard school buses; thousands of others stayed overnight in their schools.
About 1,000 arrivals and departures were canceled at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Elsewhere in the South:
• Alabama officials said rescuers and medics in helicopters were flying over hard-hit counties on search-and-rescue missions. State troopers said five people were killed in traffic accidents that may have been weather-related.
• In South Carolina, the Highway Patrol responded to almost 820 collisions statewide between 4 p.m. Tuesday and 4 a.m. Wednesday.
• Schools across much of North Carolina were closed Wednesday, and some colleges canceled class, including North Carolina State University. The state highway patrol said the weather was a factor in traffic accidents that killed two people.
— The Virginia coast was blanketed in up to 10 inches of snow Wednesday morning. Tens of thousands of sailors were told to stay away from the region’s Navy bases unless they were essential.
— Ice closed more 20 highways in Louisiana. Normally busy areas of New Orleans were quiet.
David Crary reported from New York. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., and Christina A. Cassidy in Clarkston, Ga., as well as AP bureaus across the South, contributed to this report.