At noon on Wednesday, the Office of Emergency Management had called in the Georgia National Guard to assist in getting the last few school children home and to help at fire stations around the county with Humvees that could get out quickly on emergency calls overnight and into Thursday morning.
“As far as we know, everyone who was in a bad situation or stranded is now safe and accounted for. Our deputies and firefighters worked around the clock checking the literally hundreds of vehicles stranded through the night,’ said Cherokee Sheriff Roger Garrison. “The roads are improving in some places, but it is still extremely hazardous, and we are advising that everyone stay home.”
Garrison said some of the worst areas where motorists were stranded were Sixes Road from Interstate 575 to Marble Quarry Road and Bells Ferry Road between Wingate Parkway and the Little River Bridge.
“Deputies picked people up that were stranded and did welfare checks to help people most of the night,” said Garrison.
Schools and businesses closing at the same time, dumping thousands of motorists and school buses on the treacherous icy roads caused the massive problems, said Robby Westbrook, director of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security-Emergency Management.
“This was the kind of event that developed very quickly. When you have almost 40,000 school children that is almost 80,000 moms and dads, and that is a lot of people on the roads trying to get somewhere at the same time,” Westbrook said.
Many of the calls were to assist people with special medical needs and people out in the brutal cold, he said.
“We tried to get resources out to check on as many as we could,” Westbrook said.
In addition to shelters opened overnight around the county, Westbrook said many businesses, including Kroger stores, opened their doors to those stranded.
“I am really proud how so many citizens and businesses took all these people in that were in need,” Westbrook said.
Cherokee County was among the worst hit counties in the state by the snow storm, with Waleska in north Cherokee reporting the highest snowfall statewide with 3.5 inches, he said.
But the areas in the county that reported the most problems were south of Highway 20, including Canton and Woodstock, he said.
Cherokee County road crews were busy Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as well. Cliff Harden, Cherokee’s director of roads and bridges, said by noon Wednesday all major roads had been treated.
“We primarily have been placing salt and stone on all major roads, and we assisted with spot emergency locations,” Harden said. “All major roads are treated, and we are using graders to plow off where it has melted enough to plow.”
Harden said his department would run trucks overnight Wednesday to treat critical spots where needed.
“All of roads have snow and/or ice, but many places are melting where the sun is shining today,” Harden said Wednesday. “The problem is that places that melt and don’t clear off will refreeze overnight and be black ice. I caution motorists to still stay in until roads are clear.”
The city of Canton Police Department continued to run operations through its Emergency Operations Center operated by the Canton Police Department and Canton Fire Department.
All available officers were called to report to duty and officers were assigned to unmarked 4x4 vehicles and responded to emergencies and stranded motorists, said police department spokesman Pacer Cordry.
“Officers worked through the night managing accidents and helping citizens in need,” he said in a news release.
Canton Police were dispatched to about 108 calls Tuesday evening, he said.
“City roads are ice packed and extremely dangerous to drive. We strongly encourage all citizens to be patient, stay off the roadway and allow the city Street Department to sand and clear the roads,” he said. “The Street Department is reporting abandoned vehicles on the roadway are slowing the process of sanding and removing snow from the roadway.”
Cherokee Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Jay Baker said it’s difficult to say exactly how many people were left stranded by the conditions overnight Tuesday, but there were many.
“I would venture to say that it was in the hundreds,” he said.
Baker said emergency workers were out all night and continued to patrol checking parked cars along the roads to make sure everyone was safe. Officers have been marking cars once it’s determined that no one is inside.
“We have people out, we’ve had people out all night long,” the spokesman said.
As of just before 11:30 a.m., Baker said authorities weren’t aware of anyone stuck in their car on the road in Cherokee County.
Baker added authorities are still responding to calls for help in all areas of the county, no matter how poor conditions are.
“Even though the roads are treacherous, we have the ability to respond anywhere in Cherokee County,” he said.