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Georgia Gov takes responsibility for snowstorm response
While cities in the North are much more accustomed to snowstorms, and in places like New York, powerful mayors have the single-handed authority to order salt-spreaders and plows onto the streets, the Atlanta area, is a patchwork of regional governments that often don’t get along with each other.
Back in 201, after a snowstorm hobbled Atlanta in , Mayor Kasim Reed , wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had learned an important lesson about collaboration and cooperation. “We will work faster and smarter to deliver the kind of response that our residents demand and deserve,” he wrote.
Clearly those lessons were not well learned.
Thousands of people were stuck, without food and water, on the interstates in and around Atlanta after the storm struck on Tuesday afternoon. Thousands of schoolchildren were also marooned overnight in their schools or on buses trapped on the road.
In Atlanta on Thursday, the National Guard helped people retrieve abandoned cars that littered the Atlanta interstates. Meanwhile, the mayor and governor struggled with the political fallout.
Mayor Kasim Reed assured people on Tuesday, in a message on Twitter before the snow began to fall: “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.”
On Thursday, he acknowledged that authorities made a mistake by not staggering their orders for people to go home — schools first, then private businesses, then government employees. Instead, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the interstates at the same time.
But Reed suggested, that he was being unfairly blamed for traffic that clogged highways outside the city limits. “I think we need to work much harder on coordination,” he told reporters. But he stressed: “The highways are not the responsibility of the city.”
It was the latest episode of finger-pointing after the storm. On Wednesday, the governor infuriated meteorologists by calling the storm “unexpected” and saying that nobody “could have predicted “the degree and magnitude of the problem.”
In fact, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm alert for Atlanta at 3:38 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 hours before the worst of the traffic set in.
The problem was compounded by the fact that Atlanta also has a deeply ingrained car culture and a mass transit system that serves only a fraction of the metro area’s 5.5 million people. In 2012 voters across the region defeated a one-penny sales tax that would have strengthened regional transit.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday took responsibility for the state’s slow response to the snowstorm that left people stranded for more than 24 hours on gridlocked interstates, and his top emergency management official said flatly: “I got this one wrong.”
“I’m not going to look for a scapegoat,” Deal said. “I am the governor. The buck stops with me. I accept the responsibility for it, but I also accept the responsibility of being able to make corrective actions as they come into the future.”
He added: “We will take those weather warnings more seriously.”
Charley English, head of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said he had made a mistake by activating the state’s emergency response center six hours too late, long after the National Weather Service upgraded its winter storm alert for Atlanta on Tuesday morning. “I made a terrible mistake, and I put the governor in an awful position,” he said.
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