(NewsNation Now) — The Virginia Department of Transportation has cleared all stranded drivers from a stretch of Interstate 95, where some cars had been stuck in mileslong bumper-to-bumper traffic since Monday.
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation said Tuesday evening there were no longer any motorists stranded on a now-closed portion of Interstate 95. All disabled vehicles have also been removed from the interstate.
Travelers in Fredericksburg, Virginia, had been stuck on Interstate 95 for extended periods of time over the past 24 hours, in some cases since Monday morning, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes,” VDOT Fredericksburg District Engineer Marcie Parker said in an official statement. “In addition to clearing the trucks, we are treating for snow and several inches of ice that has accumulated around them to ensure that when the lanes reopen, motorists can safely proceed to their destination.”
Problems began Monday morning when a truck jackknifed on Interstate 95, the main north-south highway along the East Coast, triggering a swift chain reaction as other vehicles lost control, state police said.
What started as rain at about 3 a.m. Monday turned to snow sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. According to Virginia officials, the roads weren’t treated at the time and the interstate wasn’t closed until about 8 a.m. on Tuesday — more than 24 hours later.
Lanes in both directions became blocked across a 40-mile stretch of the road north of Richmond. As hours passed and night fell, motorists posted messages on social media about running out of fuel, food and water.
Virginia couple Linda and Paul Mason spent more than 10 hours in their car, weighing the cost of turning on their car’s heat or leaving it off to preserve gas.
“We kept sitting and sitting, waiting for help and help never came,” Linda Mason said.
The pair didn’t hit any problems until they arrived at what Linda Mason called the “epicenter of the storm” in Fredericksburg around 3:30 p.m. Monday. Two hours later they were “not looking in good shape at all,” she said.
Over the next several hours, the Masons rationed what food and water they had in their car until they were able to escape traffic with several others at about 8 a.m. Tuesday, Linda Mason said.
“We don’t know if we were supposed to leave or not but we did,” she said.
The roads were still unsalted, Linda Mason said.
It took the couple another three hours to drive the remaining 27 miles home, where they arrived to discover they were without power.
Virginia 911 operator Ryan Graham also was stranded for hours in his car on a nearby highway.
“I’m trying to get to work so I can help other people, but now I’ve been stuck for four hours. My relief, rather the person I was relieving, has been stuck there so it’s unfortunate,” Graham said. “It’s really too bad that they did not see this coming and weren’t prepared for it, to be honest with you.”
Also trapped on the road was Davante Williams, an Uber driver from Washington, D.C. He was in the process of dropping off a young lady when they got stuck on the road.
“My passenger, she was so distraught,” he told NewsNation’s Marni Hughes. “Apparently, I picked her up from Union Station, and her train was canceled due to derailment. So she only could call for Uber, and I was her driver.”
The two were stuck on the road for about five hours. Williams said he was just focused on getting the teen home to her parents.
“She was calling her parents in panic. I had to explain to her parents that hey, I’m not anyone crazy. I’m just trying to get your daughter somewhere safe.” When they got off the interstate, Williams ended up booking a hotel room for his passenger because she wasn’t old enough to get a room by herself.
“I wanted to make sure she was comfortable and I didn’t want to leave her stranded,” he said.
Also among the stranded drivers was Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who tweeted that his typical two-hour drive to the Capitol already had taken more than 19 hours.
The storm, which brought nearly a foot of snow in some spots, closed federal offices, adjourned the Senate and canceled a White House press briefing.
Matt Smolsky, assistant chief of community safety with Prince William Fire and Rescue in Virginia, said his department took a total of 18 dispatch calls from the interstate.
“it was just just a terrible mess all throughout the day,” he said. “We had freezing temperatures as nightfall came and we were out on the highway from yesterday afternoon running various calls.”
He said the calls for help really started to pour in early Tuesday morning.
“I think we attribute it to primary reason being people have been out there overnight or coming hungry, concerned, running out of gas.”
When asked about how such a situation could like this could occur when the forecasters predicted significant snowfall in the region, Smolensky said: “I think we obviously have to find out how the decision was made, the timeline, what was started, when it was started … usually in these matters, sometimes there’s a lack of communications somewhere along the line.”
Harsh weather and coronavirus-related concerns meant airlines weren’t fairing well, either.
According to Flightaware.com, more than 3,700 flights within, into and out of the U.S. were delayed as of Tuesday afternoon. More than 300 flights were canceled at nearby Reagan Airport alone.