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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's Staff Acknowledged Danger of Winter Storm Leon 24 Hours in Advance; Apologies Issued for Atlanta Gridlock

By Sean Breslin
Published: January 31, 2014

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's staff began questioning Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Charley English about preparations for Winter Storm Leon nearly 24 hours before the storm began to cripple Atlanta roads, according to an AJC.com report.

Emails obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that Chris Riley, Deal's chief of staff, asked English why contact hadn't been established between the two as Leon closed in on the state.

“Everyone keeps trying to tell me how bad the weather is going to be but I keep saying if the weather was going to be bad, Charley would have called and he hasn’t called me,” Riley said to English in one of the emails posted by AJC.com.

The report added that the two spoke on the phone before the storm. English has admitted fault for the city's poor storm preparation.

(MORE: Mom, Infant Rescued From the Gridlock)

Overnight Thursday, 147 cars were towed from Georgia roads after the 9 p.m. deadline for drivers to claim abandoned cars had passed, according to NBC News. Towing ended at 4:30 a.m. Friday morning, and drivers can call 511 to get details about their relocated cars.

Deal, who initially called the storm "unexpected" and said federal forecasters were wrong despite the fact that winter storm warnings were released at 3:38 a.m. Tuesday, was contrite at a news conference Thursday.

"We did not make preparations early enough," Deal said. "I'm not going to look for a scapegoat. I am the governor. The buck stops with me."

Deal mentioned English, who has worked for the agency nearly 20 years, directly when discussing the mistakes Thursday.

"I made a terrible error in judgment earlier, late on Monday afternoon and early Tuesday," English said. He also acknowledged making "inaccurate and regretful" statements about Georgia's response at an earlier news conference. He said he didn't notify the administration about the storm's impact on Atlanta until about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Deal told reporters there will be an internal review of all agencies and revisions made to protocols to respond to severe weather forecasts.

(MORE: Here's How to Retrieve Your Abandoned Car in Atlanta)

The governor offered condolences to the families of children who had to spend Tuesday night at their school, or even worse, in a school bus stranded on the roads.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered apologies and defensive explanations to the chaos the weather created.

Reed, who has taken heat in the national media, has said the city is not directly responsible for the interstates, and that many of the wrecks and scenes of gridlock were outside the city. Both Reed and the governor said they don't control school district decisions.

Many school districts throughout the metro area – including Atlanta, DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb County – remained closed to students Friday, and Deal extended a state of emergency through to Sunday night. The declaration was extended to allow the state to continue using certain resources to help local governments clear roads and deal with other storm-related issues, Deal said.

On Thursday, residents and officials began the tedious process of matching up drivers with their abandoned cars on interstates and side streets. The Georgia Department of Transportation provided HERO units to transport motorists to their cars, if needed, and assisted in jumping dead batteries or providing gas for automobiles that ran out of fuel.

Police began impounding cars that remained unclaimed starting at 9 p.m. Thursday.

In all, there were more than 1,460 crashes between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, including two fatal crashes, and more than 175 injuries, according to the Georgia State Patrol.

Temperatures in the region were expected to reach the low 50s on Friday, which should help officials clear ice accumulations from local roads. Temperatures are expected to remain well above freezing and reach the low 60s Sunday.

Snow covers the grounds at Talladega Superspeedway Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

 


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