Governor Deal: I take the blame for slow winter storm response

9:17 PM, Jan 30, 2014   |    comments
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I-285 near Langford Parkway

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal took responsibility Thursday for the chaos that swept across the Atlanta area during and after a winter storm that blasted the South this week.

Thursday night he extended the statewide State of Emergency until Sunday night.  In a written statement he said this will assure that all necessary resources are available for state agencies and local governments to clear roads and all other winter storm-related obstacles.

MORE | What happened with the state's emergency plan?

Deal also  directed state government employees to report to their workplaces at regular hours Friday, unless doing so puts them in harm's way.  Employees who think it's not safe to travel from their location need to contact their supervisor.

During the press conference Thursday Deal apologized to people who were stuck in their cars as well as families whose children were forced to stay at school when highway gridlock left some vehicles sitting for 10 hours or more in traffic.

"I am not satisfied with the response that was made," Deal said at a news conference. "We did not respond fast enough. ... We will be much more cautious - and much more aggressive in terms of taking action in advance" of a storm.

Deal said the state will review each department's response to the storm and compile a plan of action for similar weather events.

Deal said state officials were caught unprepared when late forecasts indicated the bulk of the storm would hit Atlanta rather than south of the city.

Charley English, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, was similarly contrite. "I made a terrible error in judgment," English said. Among other mistakes, he said, he should have sent state employees home earlier.

"I got this one wrong. I got it wrong by at least six hours," he said.

Wednesday, Deal had said the National Weather Service "continually had modeling showing Atlanta would not be the primary area (of the storm). It would be south of Atlanta."

Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist with the University of Georgia and president of the American Meteorological Society, said Wednesday that neither meteorologists nor the forecast for the Atlanta area was to blame.

Shepherd said the weather service issued a winter storm warning for the entire Atlanta metro area at 3:39 a.m. Tuesday, expecting 1-2 inches of snow. The city got about 2.6 inches. "Overall, the Atlanta event was a well-forecasted and well-warned event," he said.

"I'm not going to look for a scapegoat," Deal said Thursday. "I am the governor. The buck stops with me. I accept responsibility. Our preparation was not adequate."

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Kasim Reed weighed in, pointing out on NBC's Today show that the jammed roads NBC showed this week were interstates and not within the city's jurisdiction.

He said he ordered all Atlanta streets pre-treated by 9 a.m. Tuesday. The storm hit after lunchtime. "If the cameras had focused on city limits, they would have seen that 80% were passable," Reed told host Today host Matt Lauer.

Reed told Lauer the failure to stagger the release of people from schools and businesses in Atlanta during a light snowstorm Tuesday played a primary role in creating a paralyzing traffic jam.

"We made an error in the way that we released our citizens,'' Reed said. "The state made a judgment to release state employees, private businesses made that judgment, and I made the call and APS (Atlanta Public Schools) made the call."

He said the city is relatively inexperienced at dealing with snowstorms, "but the city of Atlanta invested $2.5 million in snow equipment, and that is the reason that right now our streets are passable."

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