Virginia State Police respond to over 1,000 crashes on snowy highway
Hundreds of motorists were stranded overnight after a blizzard roared through the area
By Andras Gergely and Ari Natter
WASHINGTON — A pileup of tractor trailers in Virginia shut down Interstate 95, the U.S. East Coast’s major north-south artery, during a snowstorm, stranding hundreds of motorists overnight in freezing temperatures and disrupting private and commercial traffic.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said its crews were still working Tuesday morning to unblock the highway south of the U.S. capital, but it remained unclear when traffic could resume. After several hours, the agency is now trying to move cars off the highway via interchanges and asking anyone experiencing a medical emergency stuck in the chain of cars to call 911.
Between 7 and 11 inches of snow accumulated in the area during Monday’s blizzard, and the National Weather Service is warning of more ice for Tuesday, punctuating the end of a difficult holiday travel season that saw supply chains disrupted and flights canceled due to weather and Covid-19-related absences.
More than 275,000 homes and businesses in Virginia were without power Tuesday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages from local utilities. North Carolina and Maryland each had at least 25,000 customers in the dark.
Service on Amtrak’s Northeast corridor was disrupted, with numerous trains canceled, delayed or halted overnight. At least one was listed as running more than 19 hours behind schedule.
The Virginia State Police had responded to over 1,000 crashes and assisted 1,000 more motorists since early Monday morning, said Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.
“While sunlight is helping VDOT treat and clear roads, all Virginians must continue to avoid the interstate and follow directions of emergency personnel,” Yarmosky said in an email.
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An emergency message is going to all stranded drivers connecting them to support, and the state is working with localities to open a warming shelter for passengers, as needed, Yarmosky said.
“We know many travelers have been stuck on Interstate 95 in our region for extraordinary periods of time over the past 24 hours, in some cases since Monday morning,” Marcie Parker, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fredericksburg District engineer told the Associated Press. “This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes.”
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine tweeted that he had still not reached the U.S. Capitol 19 hours after he began his normally two-hour journey there Monday, adding that his office was in touch with the state’s transportation officials.
“Please stay safe everyone,” he said.
NBC Correspondent Josh Lederman tweeted he was stuck on the I-95 for more than 11 hours with little word from officials. He later tweeted that traffic was finally moving toward Washington, but the southbound lanes of the interstate were still blocked for miles.
Images taken from news helicopters aired on NBC showed emergency personnel walking across the median to bring blankets and supplies to stranded motorists once dawn broke.
While the eastern snow storm also affected parts of New Jersey, other kinds of extreme weather are hitting elsewhere too.
“Heavy coastal rain and widespread mountain snow will continue for the Northwest U.S. much of this week,” the National Weather Service said. “High winds and fire weather will impact the central and southern High Plains Tuesday.”
Meanwhile, thousands of U.S. flight cancellations cascaded into the first work week of the new year as ongoing Covid-19 issues among airline workers were compounded by winter storms hitting the northeast.
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