Good Samaritans across metro Atlanta took food to thousands of stranded motorists spending the night on ice-locked freeways, helped push cars up hills, offered rides and places to recharge cellphones, and even invited strangers into their homes for the night.
During a 24-hour stretch when waits for an ambulance could stretch into hours, when nary a salt or sand truck could be spotted, when everything contained in a massive regional emergency plan put in place after the 2011 Snowpocalypse sputtered and stopped, the difference was made by neighbors, family, friends or anonymous angels.
“I can’t express how grateful I am,” said Trina Samuels, 28, who after eight hours on snarled secondary roads found herself stuck at the bottom of a frozen hill on Peachtree Dunwoody Road. That’s when Jim Walsh tapped on her window.
The Walsh family ended up hosting in their Sandy Springs home Samuels and two other stranded women, and Jim’s daughters were making crepes and coffee for them Wednesday morning as Walsh trudged back outside to help push more cars up that hill.
Walsh’s neighbors also took in stranded motorists. Their acts of care were repeated over and over throughout the snow-and-traffic-bound city. Such good deeds demonstrated that old-fashioned neighborliness succeeds even when a city’s emergency preparedness fails.
“Everyone in our little neighborhood of six townhouses took at least one stranger in,” said Candy Franks of Roswell. “It’s a testament to the goodness of people.”
On Wednesday morning, Connor Cassidy, 18, trolled Buckhead in his four-wheel-drive Jeep Wrangler with big knobby tires, looking for stragglers. He used his towing straps to pull a van full of construction workers up a slippery stretch of Roswell Road, as onlookers gave him an ovation.
“People walking by were cheering,” marveled Cassidy, who is a student at the Ben Franklin Academy.
The young man then stopped to give telephone salesman Jim Johnson a ride back to Midtown, where Johnson had abandoned his car the night before.
“He’s a trooper. He went right through this stuff,” said Johnson, 49.
Pleas for and offers of help went out the old-fashioned way, by ringing church bells, and new-fashioned ways as well. Facebook saved many stranded Atlantans during the wintry mess.
The Facebook page SnowedOutAtlanta gathered more than 40,000 members in a scant few hours and bristled with people offering assistance. One commenter said the woman who started the page did more to help than all the governments together.
Lynn Wade, a human relations manager stuck on Abernathy Road after eight hours of fruitless travel, was nearly in tears Tuesday until her husband, Butch, found a posting that offering shelter at the nearby Weber School. An hour later his wife was eating a bowl of chicken soup and had a place to rest.
“They were wonderful and helpful,” she said.
Churches rang bells to notify those seeking help that their doors were open. About 100 people took shelter at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church on Mount Vernon Highway NW in Sandy Springs. The Rev. Michael Sullivan said some people just left their cars and walked over to the church, which is near I-285 and Powers Ferry Road.
Police and firefighters brought others. Sullivan said he spent much of the night on Facebook and the phone reassuring husbands, mothers, fathers and wives that their loved ones were safe.
Some businesses went above and beyond during the emergency. Joe Dudley, manager of the Rite Aid Pharmacy that sits atop the hilly intersection of I-285 and Paces Ferry Road, knew by Tuesday afternoon that his store would be in the thick of the action.
Before the night was over, Dudley had walked half a mile down the hill to an open Subway sandwich shop to buy 32 sandwiches to feed the stranded who had gathered in the store for a little warmth, some snacks and relief.
“All the hotels were booked,” Dudley said. “And people were coming in to get shelter and it just progressed. … At one point we had a whole load from a bus,” who had walked 3 miles up I-285 after being stranded for six or seven hours.
Dudley gave bottled water to neighbors from Vinings, who walked up and down the highway handing out drinks and snacks. Wednesday, near noon, the highway was still locked down.
Some rescuers, like Greg Sweetin, helped multiple folks.
Sweetin and several young women knocked on stranded Fauve Yandel Holihan’s car window to make sure she was OK and then asked if she would like to come to their house to sleep. They collected two more stranded drivers who were also put up for the night.
Sweetin and his wife, Kelly, also took in a friend’s daughter, whose mother was out of town and whose father couldn’t get home. Another friend, who owns a restaurant and lives about a mile away, sent her daughter with food on a sled for the Sweetins and their guests.
“I have three children, and I’d hope that someone would take my kids in and make sure they were safe and warm in this kind of situation,” Sweetin said.
“I slept on a sofa in the Sweetin’s living room,” said Holihan. “I can’t remember the last time I slept so soundly.”
Many of those who offered help were like Walsh, who seemed honored to have the opportunity to do something good.
“It’s nice to be able to serve others,” he said. “It really feels good.”