'The buck stops with me': Georgia gov takes responsibility - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

'The buck stops with me': Georgia gov takes responsibility for snowstorm response

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Gridlocked traffic outside Atlanta Tuesday. AP photo Gridlocked traffic outside Atlanta Tuesday. AP photo

By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

(NBC) - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday ordered a review of the state's slow response to a snowstorm that left people stranded for more than 24 hours on gridlocked interstates, and his top emergency management official said flatly: "I got this one wrong."

Deal pledged to reporters that the state would be more aggressive in responding to future weather threats.

"I'm not going to look for a scapegoat," he said. "I am the governor. The buck stops with me. I accept the responsibility for it, but I also accept the responsibility of being able to make corrective actions as they come into the future."

He added: "We will take those weather warnings more seriously."

Charley English, head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said he had made a mistake by activating the state's emergency response center six hours too late, after the National Weather Service

"I made a terrible mistake, and I put the governor in an awful position," he said.
Thousands of people were stuck, without food and water, on the interstates in and around Atlanta after the storm struck on Tuesday afternoon.

Still littered with abandoned cars, the city of Atlanta struggled to find its way back to normal while the mayor and governor struggled with the political fallout from the storm.

Mayor Kasim Reed assured people on Tuesday, in a message on Twitter before the snow began to fall: "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow."

On Thursday, he acknowledged that authorities made a mistake by not staggering their orders for people to go home — schools first, then private businesses, then government employees. Instead, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the interstates at the same time.

But Reed suggested, in a pair of interviews on NBC's TODAY and MSNBC's "Morning Joe," that he was being unfairly blamed for traffic that clogged highways outside the city limits.

"I think we need to work much harder on coordination," he said on MSNBC. But he stressed: "The highways are not the responsibility of the city."

It was the latest episode of finger-pointing after the storm. On Wednesday, the governor infuriated meteorologists by calling the storm "unexpected" and saying that nobody "could have predicted "the degree and magnitude of the problem."

In fact, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm alert for Atlanta at 3:38 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 hours before the worst of the traffic set in.

On Thursday, with many roads in the Atlanta area still slick with ice, authorities pleaded with people not to risk their safety by trying to retrieve cars that they abandoned during the traffic jam. The Georgia Department of Transportation said it would help people back to their vehicles, but asked them to avoid attempting the journey alone.

Schoolchildren across the Atlanta area were home for the day. Thousands of them got stuck in the storm, either marooned at their schools for the night or stuck on buses on the gridlocked interstates.

Cities in the North are much more accustomed to snowstorms, and in places like New York, powerful mayors have the single-handed authority to order salt-spreaders and plows onto the streets.

But the Atlanta area, as frustrated experts pointed out, is a patchwork of regional governments that often don't get along with each other.

It also has a deeply ingrained car culture and a mass transit system that serves only a fraction of the metro area's 5.5 million people. In 2012 voters across the region defeated a one-penny sales tax that would have strengthened regional transit.

After a snowstorm hobbled Atlanta in 2011, Reed, the Atlanta mayor, wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had learned an important lesson about collaboration and cooperation.

"We will work faster and smarter to deliver the kind of response that our residents demand and deserve," he wrote.

Asked on "Morning Joe" why authorities had not worked better together this time, he said: "I think that we all have responsibility."

While authorities in the Southeast rarely deal with snowstorms, some of them claimed that they had not been sufficiently warned by meteorologists about this one.

Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, said in a blog that the governor's claim that the storm was unexpected was "wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong."

Only about 2½ inches actually fell on the city of Atlanta, but thousands of drivers were hopelessly stuck for as long as two days, many without food and water.

Deal ordered the National Guard to clear the way for school buses that were carefully delivering schoolchildren back to their homes after thousands of them were marooned overnight. All of them were "home safe and sound" by late Wednesday afternoon, Deal said.

National Guard troops distributed blankets and 200 cases of military-style MREs, or meals ready to eat, to drivers along Interstate 20.

The Georgia DOT said late Wednesday it had already partnered with towing companies to move abandoned vehicles from roads and onto hard shoulders. Starting Thursday morning, the department said it would work with the Georgia State Patrol and the National Guard to take people to their cars.

The department urged owners to report to one of two "staging sites" in the city, depending on where they left their vehicle. From here they would be transported in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Fuel was available to those who abandoned their cars because they ran out of gas.

"Please use extreme caution around abandoned vehicles. This is particularly important as lanes become passable and an increasing number of people return to the roadsides to move their cars," the statement said.

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