Atlantans cope during winter storm

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by Marta Garcia

Jessica Hackl kissed her daughter and wished her a good day on Jan. 28 when she dropped her off at her Buckhead school at 8 a.m.

“We can play in the snow this afternoon when I pick you up, honey. It’s going to be so much fun,” Hackl told her daughter.

This 35-year-old lawyer, who has lived in Brookhaven since 2001, ended up being stranded in her car for more than 11 hours; she finally made it home at 3 a.m.—scared, cold and completely exhausted.

Hackl was one of the thousands stranded in metro Atlanta after less than three inches of snow and ice paralyzed the area.

“It was awful. The highways seemed like parking lots—a lot of accidents, people abandoning their cars,” Hackl said. “I only wanted to get home to kiss my little one. Thank God my husband was able to leave work earlier and picked her up right before the chaos started.”

Gregory Vilines considers himself a lucky one because it only took him seven hours to get home to Decatur from his job in the Perimeter area.

“I left the office at 11:45 a.m. to get something to eat in a restaurant a half a mile from my office and it took us over four hours to get back. Actually, we ended up abandoning the car in a parking lot and walking back to the office. It was almost 4 p.m., and it was snowing really bad, so I knew the highway was not an option.”

According to Vilines, the roads in the Perimeter area were not prepared for this emergency. They were not presalted and no officials were helping with the traffic, he said.

The good news for Vilines is that MARTA is pretty close to his work and house and, even though the road was slippery, he was able to walk to the station.

Some of his coworkers were not so fortunate. Like many other Atlantans, some ended up spending the night in their cars in the middle of the road.

“It was a good example about how you should pay attention to the weather and news before you make a decision,” Vilines said. “I think, honestly, Atlantans don’t know how to handle any kind of inclement weather at all.”

The disaster brought out goodness in many people. Stranded travelers sought refuge at strangers’ homes, schools and businesses.

Jobel Bombase knows this well. This CNN graphic designer left her downtown Atlanta office around 3 p.m. After eight hours sitting in her car, and only eight miles into her commute to Kennesaw, she decided to stop at a Kroger in the Vinings area to take a break.

“When I left work, the only thing I was thinking was to get home to my husband,” she said. “[During] all those hours in the car, I tried not to panic, did a lot of yoga breathing and talked to my husband every half an hour.”

But she didn’t get home that night. At that supermarket Bombase met a woman who lives less than two miles from the store and who offered her shelter, food and a friendly hand to hold onto.

“My first reaction was to say ‘no,’ but she seemed very nice and had a good vibe,” Bombase said. “When I got to the home, I met her husband and her two beautiful daughters and I knew I was safe.”

After a decent night’s sleep, Bombase woke up the next morning and sat at the table with the family to eat pancakes.

“They are amazing! I cannot thank Jennifer enough for all she is doing for me,” said the designer, who was planning to spend a second night with the family.

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