Hundreds of people have been trapped in their cars on a stretch of highway in Virginia on Monday and Tuesday after a heavy snowstorm made roads nearly impassible. Traffic was still stalled on the highway on Tuesday morning as some drivers told news outlets they had been on the road for almost 24 hours.
The 50-mile (80-kilometer) stretch of I-95 between Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Washington, DC, became incredibly icy and snowy during the storm on Monday. Up to a foot (31 centimeters) of snow fell over the region, and road operators were unable to keep the interstate clear. Even parts of the highway that had been cleared off Monday refroze overnight in the low temperatures.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has kept that portion of the highway closed Tuesday in both directions to help clear the roads and aid drivers. The DOT said that a six-truck crash at around noon on Monday had forced the southbound side of the highway to shut down and exacerbated the situation.
“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. “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.”
Drivers took to social media to complain about the situation and try to find help. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia tweeted Tuesday morning that he’d been in the car for 19 hours after beginning his “normal 2 hour drive to DC” Monday afternoon, and said his office was working with the DOT to help other drivers. In a nightmarish tweet thread posted in the early hours of Tuesday morning, NBC reporter Josh Lederman detailed his own hours-long experience of being stuck in his car, including worries about running out of gas and waiting in the cold. Lederman said he’d seen cars being abandoned after accidents or running out of gas.
“This has been a pretty insane and fairly dystopian experience,” Lederman told Morning Joe on Tuesday. “I can see thousands of cars from where I am on the highway … [they] have been in their cars overnight without food, without water. It’s been 26 degrees outside, and nobody knows how long we’re going to be here or how we’re going to get out.”
People aren’t just having a hard time on the highway; thousands stuck at home are feeling the storm’s impacts, too. More than 132,000 customers of Dominion Energy in Central Virginia were still without power after the storm caused outages Monday; another 90,000 customers of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) also experienced outages. Warmer-than-normal weather is expected to swing into the region by Thursday, though the next few days could be rough. REC officials said the outage is “historic,” and both utilities said it could be days before power is turned back on for some customers.