Makeshift shelters open doors to stranded drivers
by Joshua Sharpe
January 29, 2014 05:52 PM | 3242 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tommy Simmons managed the warming shelter at Action Church on Tuesday night, welcoming stranded motorists for a meal and a movie as roads remained icy overnight.

Staff/Michelle Babcock
Tommy Simmons managed the warming shelter at Action Church on Tuesday night, welcoming stranded motorists for a meal and a movie as roads remained icy overnight.
Staff/Michelle Babcock
CANTON — As hundreds of motorists found themselves stranded Tuesday by several inches of snow that fell on Cherokee County, makeshift shelters around the county opened their doors to give them a warm, safe place to stay the night.

Action Church in Canton was among the places to take people in and offer them food and a warm spot to wait out the weather, along with Revolution Church, Woodstock First Baptist Church, the Hasty Student Center at Reinhardt University and King’s Academy.

Almost a dozen people sat in Action Church on Marietta Road at 8:30 p.m., sipping sweet tea and eating brisket from Angelfire 7 BBQ, as they resigned to the fact that the roads were too treacherous to try to get home. Elsewhere, Revolution Church in the Buffington community and Woodstock First Baptist each had about 120 people stay the night, authorities said Tuesday. The Hasty Student Center had a handful of residents stay.

If the stranded drivers at the other shelters were anything like those at Action Church, they were thankful to have a place to get out of the snowy conditions that had been sending drivers sliding around roads like bumper cars for hours.

“There’s no way we can make it (home) tonight, I can barely make it out of this parking lot,” Waleska resident Shaun Fournier said as he sat at a table with his two children, Lauren, 12, and Jacob, 17.

Fournier was coming from work in Marietta to pick up his kids and head home to Waleska. But after a while on the road, it was clear he and the kids weren’t going to make it home.

The Fourniers might not have ended up at Action Church, if it weren’t for the insistence of his wife Melissa, who is a city councilwoman in Waleska.

“The only other choice was to hang out in my truck all night,” he said. “Of course my wife was like, ‘No, you’re not.’”

Like Fournier, Holly Springs resident Summer Kewitt didn’t seem too happy about it, but it looked like she and a friend with her might have to stay at the church all night. She and her friend had been driving to pick up her car from a mechanic shop in northern Canton. They were driving a moving truck, because Kewitt planned to relocate to Texas on Wednesday morning.

“We literally just picked up our stuff to go up the street, get my car and come back,” she said.

Those plans changed after the truck began to slide all over the road and they suddenly had to exit Interstate 575 because of the conditions.

As she laughed about how badly “the weatherman failed,” Kewitt said she chose to take shelter at Action Church while she and her friend tried to find another way home.

“We were almost to the point where we’d just stay in the car, (or) walk,” but walking might as well have been “Plan F,” Kewitt joked.

BJ Harris, of Marietta, also saw the church as the best option.

“I’m just glad to get out the cold,” Harris said. “Trying to get back, it’s kind of dangerous.”

Harris and a co-worker were stuck in their company truck near downtown Canton when a sheriff’s deputy spotted them and asked if they were in trouble.

“He took the time to bring us over here,” Harris said gratefully, as he glanced up at a projector screen showing, appropriately, the Disney film “Snow Dogs.” “I had been out in traffic for at least five and a half hours.”

Tommy Simmons, who was overseeing the shelter Tuesday night, said he had been communicating with the Canton Police Department, local restaurants and even cab drivers to spread the word that Action Church had everyone covered.

Simmons said he expected people to continue trickling in through the night, and that the shelter, which can handle between 50 and 100 people, would be open for several more days for anyone who needed a warm place to stay.

“They can stay until I-don’t-care-when,” Simmons said, adding that he had even been walking around telling people to come to the church.

But as hard as Simmons and others were working to get the word out, it seemed to take a while for everyone in need to get the message, particularly out-of-towners who might not be as connected with the community.

Such was the case with Duluth resident Jay Yeramili.

Yeramili had been driving to meet a friend early in the day when the weather took a turn.

“It started to snow and I got stuck,” he said.

Just before 9 p.m., Yeramili stood inside Food Mart on Marietta Road and threw up his hands as he wondered where he might stay the night.

Someone pointed to Action Church’s glowing sign in the shopping center across the street.

Yeramili smiled wide, taking in the details, and shuffled carefully in the parking lot to his car and got in.

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