‘I felt like I was stuck in a movie’: Crews rescue last group of people stranded on I-95, interstate reopens
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - After more than 24 hours, The Virginia Department of Transportation has rescued the last group of drivers stranded on Interstate 95 and reopened the roadway.
There were less than 20 vehicles left to be removed from the interstate before plow trains could go through and remove snow and ice from the roadways, according to VDOT Fredericksburg. The vehicles were removed and both directions of travel have reopened.
This comes after drivers spent hours stranded on I-95 with many spending the night with no food, water or fuel.
VDOT said it was making progress in clearing roadways of snow and debris, along with helping get stranded drivers of I-95 on Tuesday afternoon. VDOT said it had been directing drivers to the nearest possible exits to get them headed to their destination.
Taly Hahn was one of the drivers redirected to the nearest exit after spending more than 10 hours trapped on the interstate.
“I felt like I was stuck in a movie somewhere and it’s not reality,” she said.
Hahn and her husband were traveling back from Florida after taking a trip to Denver, Colorado in their camper.
After a quick pit stop on Monday evening, the couple mapped out their way home.
“They gave us various estimates of plus 20 minutes, plus 30 minutes,” she said.
This estimate would turn into hours stuck on I-95.
“Some people had no food or water. Some people were running out of gas. Some people were freezing,” Hahn said. “What’s scary about it is it was not on the scale of hours, it seemed to be on the scale of days.”
In a press conference over the phone on Tuesday afternoon, VDOT said the standstill happened sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. early Tuesday morning after a snow storm passed through Virginia.
With the rain, VDOT said they couldn’t pretreat the roads.
Around 4 a.m., VDOT made the decision to close the road because there was four inches of ice underneath the cars on the interstate.
“Some of these people had been sitting in their cars, sleeping in their cars, with their kids in the car... it was just terrible,” said Bruce Eagle.
VDOT called it a perfect storm of circumstances between the icy weather and the roads not being properly treated, which multiple accidents, downed trees leaving cars and tractor-trailers littered throughout I-95.
It was a job so big VDOT called in the extra muscle just to clear a path.
“They asked us if we had any trucks to spare that we could send to this 50 mile back up,” said Bruce Eagle with Eagle Towing in Chesterfield.
Eagle Towing was one of the dozens of tow companies called to assist. Eagle says by the time his crews arrived Tuesday morning, it wasn’t the weather causing the issues.
“The road conditions were very passable, the problem was the traffic; there was nowhere for the traffic to go,” Eagle said.
Despite the roads being cleared, VDOT says secondary routes and neighborhoods remain in severe condition; they‘re warning driver drivers in the Fredericksburg area to avoid unnecessary travel.
As for those who abandoned their cars in search of relief, Bruce says the vehicles have been towed, but not at the driver’s expense.
“If their car was broken down or out of gas, or disabled somehow, we were asked to load those vehicles on our tucks and carry them on to the next available commuter parking lot...” Eagle said. “...There should be no cost to the vehicle owner whatsoever. I believe VDOT is taking care of everything as far as the cost of having the vehicles moved.”
Since Monday night, motorists have been asked to avoid the area as additional resources are sent to clear downed trees and disabled vehicles.
Earlier in the day, all southbound lanes of I-95 in Stafford County were shut down at mile marker 136 near Centreport Parkway after a crash involving six tractor-trailers, according to NBC4. The area was cleared around 6 p.m. and VDOT says there were no injuries.
About an hour later, the department cautioned drivers in the area as heavy snow continued to back up traffic near Rappahannock River.
Around 9 p.m. Monday, drivers were still stuck in both the northbound and southbound lanes in the Fredericksburg area. VDOT says it’s aware and working to reach people. Officials say cameras in the area are down due to power outages, which is limiting their abilities to confirm locations of crashes.
On Tuesday morning, NBC12 has received new developments regarding the unprecedented traffic.
Around 5:00 a.m., VDOT crews started taking people off at available interchanges to get them from the 50-mile backup to help safely reach stranded motorists and get traffic moving.
This caused Virginia State Police to close I-95 north and south to incoming traffic at Exit 152 (Dumfries) in Prince William County to Exit 104 (Carmel Church) in Caroline County.
After receiving several calls from viewers about their experience, and expressing concern for loved ones stranded, VDOT released a statement regarding the chaos.
Some drivers reached out to NBC12 saying they have been stuck for over 15 hours with their children, pets, and sleeping in their cars in the frigid temperatures.
Governor Northam released a statement on Twitter regarding the ongoing gridlock on I-95.
NBC12 has also learned that Virginia Senator Tim Kaine is also trapped in the gridlock. Kaine says his office is in touch with VDOT to see how other drivers can be helped.
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