Hundreds of Virginia motorists stranded overnight in freezing temperatures

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Hundreds of motorists were stranded all night in snow and freezing temperatures along a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 after a crash involving six tractor-trailers in Virginia, where authorities were struggling Tuesday to reach them.

The stranded motorists included NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman, who spoke on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday via video from his car, with a dog in the back seat.

He said he had been stuck about 30 miles south of Washington DC since 8pm on Monday.

“I don’t have any food or water. I have gas, but how long is that going to last?” Lederman said.

The collision on Monday afternoon caused no injuries but brought traffic to a standstill. It became impossible to move as snow accumulated. Hours passed with hundreds of motorists posting increasingly desperate messages on social media about running out of fuel, food and water.

“I think the word is dystopian,” Lederman said. “We started to see a lot of drivers turning their cars off to conserve gas, people running out of food and water, kids and pets holed up for so many hours, people letting their pets out of the car to try to walk them on the street. And in the meantime, no signs of any emergency vehicles that we could see.

“Now, you don’t know if that’s because they can’t get to where you are, but you really start to think if there was a medical emergency, someone that was out of gas and out of heat you know it’s 26F (-3C) and there’s no way that anybody can get to you in this situation.”

Emily Clementson, a truck driver, told NBC Washington she had “never seen anything like it” and urged stuck motorists to ask truck drivers if they have food or water to share, since many carry extra supplies in case they get stranded.

Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, tweeted that his team responded through the night alongside state police, transportation and emergency management officials.

“An emergency message is going to all stranded drivers connecting them to support, and the state is working with localities to open warming shelters as needed. While sunlight is expected to help … clear the road, all Virginians should continue to avoid I-95.”

Crews were working to remove stopped trucks, plow snow, de-ice the roadway and guide stranded motorists to the nearest exits along the main north-south highway on the US east coast, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

During the first mid-Atlantic storm of the year, 7-11 in of snow accumulated in the area, according to the National Weather Service. Thousands of accidents and stranded vehicles were reported throughout central and northern Virginia.

As of 3.30pm on Monday, state police had responded to more than 2,000 calls for service, the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg reported.

Others stranded included the Virginia senator Tim Kaine. The Democrat and former vice-presidential nominee tweeted on Tuesday morning that he has been stuck in traffic for more than 19 hours.

“I started my normal two-hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday,” he wrote, adding that “19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol.”

His office was in touch with state officials to “see how we can help other Virginians in this situation”, he said.

Compounding the challenges, traffic cameras went offline as much of central Virginia lost power in the storm. More than 281,000 customers remained without electricity on Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us.

Early on Tuesday, the state transportation department said crews “were mobilizing now to start taking people stopped on interstate off nearby interchanges to bring them to alternate routes”, adding that motorists should avoid interstate travel “until lanes reopen and significant congestion clears the area”.

State police had warned people to avoid driving unless absolutely necessary.

“Due to the heavy snowfall concentrated in that area, road conditions rapidly turned treacherous for commercial and passenger vehicles,” police said. “VSP troopers, wreckers, and VDOT crews continue to work as quickly as the weather and roads will safely permit to get stuck vehicles cleared and traffic moving again on I-95.”



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