Hundreds of people spent a freezing night trapped on Interstate 65 in Cullman County after snow caused a series of wrecks that snarled traffic for miles.
It took almost an entire
day, but the logjam on I-65 finally broke open Friday morning.
It began Thursday when the
sleet and snow shut down the interstate in the Lacon Mountain area near exit
Many drivers were stranded
in their cars overnight, though some lucky drivers did make it to exits.
Businesses off the interstate were more than
willing to serve some extra customers.
What you consider a haven
could be relative to your situation. For many drivers who were stuck on
Interstate 65 for hours and hours, if they could make it to a place like the
Graves BP, it was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert.
"My parking lot was
packed full," said Tim Graves, BP station owner.
In Cullman County, from
day into night and through the next morning, traffic on an icy and wreck-filled
I-65 varied between stop and a snail-like, foot-by-foot pace.
It seemed as soon as cars
started moving at all, another tractor trailer jack-knifed, shutting down any inch
of progress. Some drivers were stuck for 10 hours or more.
By the time some of the
lucky drivers nearer to an exit got to a gas station, they had a lot of needs.
"I think every
service station out here was packed full. People needed restrooms. They needed gas. They
were thirsty, hungry. They were aggravated and they were ready to get home,"
Graves said with hotels
filled for the night, some of the road-weary settled down right at the station.
They kind of camped out until it cleared up, and some of them stayed overnight.
It was a short-lived
business boost for businesses off of I-65, but like so many of those who had an
unexpected and unwanted sleepover, Graves said he's glad the interstate is free
"They were probably
ready to get home to their family and stuff. The sun was shining in Florence,
and it was like being in Alaska here," he said.
The Red Cross set up a
make-shift shelter at the Cullman Civic Center to house and feed those who
could make it there. The Red Cross said more than 100 people showed up and
stayed until 65 was cleared for traffic.
District Engineer Johnny Harris
with the Department of Transportation said Mother Nature can be tricky, and
every winter event is different.
While rare, an event like that has happened
before and can happen again.
ALDOT officials said
initial reports were that the winter weather would hit later in the day and farther
east than it did.
When trucks jack-knifed, it
caused a long backup due to the traffic flow on the interstate.
Harris said that backup
prevented their trucks from working on the roadway to keep it from freezing up.
Harris said state troopers
are tasked with closing and providing detours, but motorists between the exits
were the most impacted.
"Nature is always
unpredictable. You just try to have your
best efforts put forward and try to just deal with the situation as it
develops," said Harris.
He said local people are
preparing an after event report for review.
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