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Sheer Panic: Hundreds of Drivers Stranded on Freezing Highway for Hours

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Interstate 95 in northern Virginia became a miles-long stretch of desperation Monday after hundreds of drivers were stranded when a winter storm swept through the region. Many drivers remained stuck in their cars for more than 12 hours as efforts to disperse the traffic jam continued into Tuesday morning.

Snowfalls of more than 11 inches were reported in Capitol Heights, Maryland, while 10 inches of snow fell in Rose Hill, Virginia, according to Fox News.

As of Tuesday morning, what began as an inconvenience was approaching a crisis for drivers with no food or water who were running low on gas from keeping their cars running overnight in sub-freezing weather — temperatures that Fox reported were in the teens. Some had pets or family members needing medical attention as passengers, further complicating their situations.

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“We are getting to people as soon as we can. We understand the severity of the situation,” Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Kelly Hannon said, according to WNBC-TV.

The Virginia Department of Transportation said that as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, 48 miles of the usually busy highway were closed due to the traffic jam.

Prince William County firefighters handed out blankets and water bottles as they walked along the lines of cars Tuesday morning.

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Driver Anne Gould said she had been halted on a trip to Florida Monday, and by Tuesday had moved only a few car lengths south.

“There’s cars and trucks as far as I can see behind me, and in front of me, and it’s looked like this for 12 hours,” she said Tuesday morning.

Virginia State Police said that amid the slick roads there had been multiple crashes, but no deaths.

“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 a statement.

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“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,” Parker said.

Nisa Semesta, who was stuck for more than 12 hours with two cats, said drivers cannot get off the highway for supplies.

“We’re really worried about our access to food, water and sanitation at the moment,” she said. “I know some people are starting to get worried about gas.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” truck driver Emily Clementson said.

WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine said drivers were pushed to extremes.

“Some people were seen abandoning their vehicles in snow-covered travel lanes, walking down I-95 to parts unknown,” Dildine said. “Some callers were sobbing and scared. Psychologically, it is extremely distressing to be motionless on a highway for hours on end without knowing how much longer it will last.”

Dildine said the weather triggered a chain reaction of misery.

“The heavy burst of snow Monday morning set off a chain reaction of truck crashes and stalled vehicles,” Dildine said. “As traffic initially lurched to a stop, snow rapidly piled up between vehicles. With plows unable to reach the snow-covered mainline, more drivers began spinning their wheels and the severity of the bottlenecks continued to worsen.”

AAA in western New York suggests drivers carry an emergency kit to be prepared, according to Rochester First.

Elements of a kit, which should be adapted to suit each family, could include “a cellphone charger, sand or kitty litter, a small shovel, flashlight, an ice scraper, jumper cables, a blanket, gloves or mittens and snacks and water.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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