Hundreds of drivers stranded on highway for 24 hours: 'In tears'

Hundreds of drivers have been stranded on a US highway for almost 24 hours in freezing temperatures after a huge winter storm brought traffic to a halt on Monday (local time).

The heavy snow storm swept across Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina, killing five people, including two children, and leaving nearly 850,000 people without power, local publications reported.

More than 80 kilometres of Interstate 95, south of Washington DC, remains closed, with drivers stuck in their cars overnight worried about running out of petrol, food and water as temperatures dropped to -9C.

Problems began Monday morning when a truck jackknifed on I-95, the main north-south highway along the East Coast, triggering a swift chain reaction as other vehicles lost control, state police said.

Drivers wait for the traffic to be cleared as cars and trucks are stranded on sections of Interstate 95.
More than 80 kilometres of Interstate 95, south of Washington DC, remains closed, with drivers stuck in their cars overnight. Source: AP

As hours passed and night fell, scared and frustrated motorists posted messages on social media.

Senator Tim Kaine said on Instagram he was one of the many people stranded on the highway.

“I started my normal 2 hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol,” he wrote alongside a picture of him sitting in standstill traffic.

“My office is in touch with [Virginia Department of Transportation] to see how we can help other Virginians in this situation. Please stay safe everyone.”

The Democrat told radio station WTOP he worried about all the families with children or elderly passengers who were running out of fuel and food.

Then he got a little envious because at least they had body heat to share.

“At some point I kind of made the switch from a miserable travel experience to a kind of survival project,” Kaine said when he was still stuck after 21 hours alone in his car.

Kiara Davis and Aja Brown walk up the I-95 on-ramp with a cooler with beverages and snacks for stranded drivers.
Kiara Davis and Aja Brown walk up the southbound I-95 on ramp with a cooler with beverages and snacks for anyone they may have found stranded on the highway. Source: AP

But Kaine also described a camaraderie as strangers connected along the highway, including a Connecticut family who walked up and down lines of parked cars, sharing a bag of oranges they had planned to bring home from a Florida vacation.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kaine said.

“I will never forget this.”

Marcie Parker, a Virginia Department of Transportation engineer leading the effort to clear the interstate, said crews had been focusing on cars that can move on their own.

Then they will tow disabled or abandoned ones and plow, she said, adding the roadway is expected to be cleared for the Wednesday morning rush hour.

'No one came for 16 hours'

Meera Rao and her husband, Raghavendra, were driving home from visiting their daughter in North Carolina when they got stuck on Monday evening.

They were only metres past an exit, but could not move for roughly 16 hours.

“Not one police (officer) came in the 16 hours we were stuck,” she said.

“No one came. It was just shocking. Being in the most advanced country in the world, no one knew how to even clear one lane for all of us to get out of that mess?”

This photo provided by Jennifer Travis shows the view from her car where she her husband and 12-year-old daughter were among hundreds of motorists who waited desperately for help.
The roadway is expected to be cleared for the Wednesday morning rush hour. Source: Jennifer Travis via AP

Rao said they stopped their car engine at least 30 times to conserve gas and ran the heat just enough to get warm.

They had some potato chips, nuts and apples to eat, but Rao did not want to drink any bottled water because she had a sprained ankle and did not think she could reach a makeshift restroom.

Finally, about mid-morning on Tuesday, a tow truck driver appeared and cleared away snow, allowing the Raos and other cars to back up and take the exit.

“He was a messenger from God,” Rao said.

“I literally was in tears.”

More than 200 passengers stuck on train

Drivers were not the only one affected by the winter storm, with 220 passengers and six crew members on an Amtrak train stranded in Virginia for 40 hours, NBC reported.

Amtrak’s Crescent left New Orleans on Sunday on its way to New York and got stuck near Lynchburg on Monday morning, when downed trees blocked the tracks.

Passenger Sean Thornton told The Associated Press Amtrak provided food, but toilets were overflowing and passengers were furious.

An Amtrak train, bound for New York, stranded in the snow near Lynchburg, with 200 passengers on-board.
More than 200 passengers and six crew were stranded on an Amtrak train for 40 hours. Source: Madison Doner/WSET-TV, ABC 13

“All we’ve been told is there are trees on the tracks preventing us from moving forward,” Thornton said on Tuesday.

“Nobody has eaten for about 20 hours and the toilets in coach are completely backed up. The snack bar sold out of food yesterday. Passengers have been banned from leaving the train.”

The tracks have since been cleared the train has resumed its journey north.

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