UPDATE: RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation says there are no longer any motorists stranded on a now-closed portion of Interstate 95.
Emily Wade said at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that only about 20 cars remained on the affected section of road between Richmond and Washington, and all of those were abandoned.
Wade said some motorists on the highway may still be in the process of being routed around closures.
It was not immediately clear when the whole stretch would be reopened.
Hundreds of vehicles were trapped overnight in Virginia on icy Interstate 95, in some cases for more than 20 hours according to some drivers, following a vehicle crash that shut down 50 miles of the roadway near Fredericksburg amid heavy winter snowfall.
The massive logjam follows more than a foot of snow falling in the region just south of Washington, D.C., on Monday morning. Multiple crashes were reported along the interstate, including several tractor-trailers that jackknifed and became stuck, officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation said.
The Virginia State Police said there are no reported deaths or injuries related to the traffic nightmare as of Tuesday afternoon.
Marcie Parker, district engineer for Fredericksburg VDOT, said the snowfall was far more than VDOT anticipated and that the roadway had not been pretreated for the icy conditions because of heavy rainfall.
“If they pretreated, it would have just washed away and wasted product and blocked traffic,” Parker said at a late-morning press conference, according to the local station WRIC.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called the situation “incredibly unusual” and a “perfect storm” for the chaos that ensued.
“We were prepared for the storm that was predicted, a few inches of snow, but instead Mother Nature sent over a foot,” he said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Parker, who in an earlier statement similarly called the interstate shutdown “unprecedented,” said officials hope to reopen the interstate by Wednesday at the latest. This will follow all disabled vehicles being removed from the roadway so it can be cleared.
Drivers, trapped with nowhere to go, have meanwhile shared photos and videos from the road with frustration at the extreme conditions.
“There is absolutely no sign that this is going to change anytime soon. This is a complete parking lot on I-95 and the road is nothing but ice,” Jim DeFede, a reporter with CBS News in Miami, said in a video posted to Twitter late Tuesday morning.
With temperatures continuously below freezing, DeFede said he takes turns running his car’s engine for about an hour to stay warm and then turning it off to conserve the half-tank of gas he has left.
“I’m not sure but I think I now qualify for Virginia residency,” DeFede joked in an earlier post that showed vehicles with icicles parked around him.
Among those trapped on the roadway was Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who shared a photo from the interstate Tuesday, where he said he has sat for 19 hours.
“My office is in touch with @VaDOT to see how we can help other Virginians in this situation. Please stay safe everyone,” he tweeted.
Josh Lederman, a correspondent for NBC News who reported from his car with his dog on the interstate before being helped off the highway late Tuesday morning, said he saw people collecting snow to melt for water and children playing on the side of the road.
“You don’t expect to be making calculations about, all right, do I have enough water to get me through before I get into a kind of trouble situation? Do I have enough gas in my car that’s sitting idle on this highway, it can stay running overnight to keep me warm?” he said in a later broadcast from his home. “That’s why there are some really serious questions that people are raising today about the response from transportation authorities in Virginia and why they weren’t able to get people off the road faster.”
Transportation officials said they are working around the clock to take people off the interstate at the nearest interchange available to them. Additional resources from across the state have been deployed to remove debris and treat the roads. Several inches of ice were found to have accumulated around some stopped vehicles.
Authorities have asked that drivers with a medical or life-threatening emergency dial 911 and provide a description of their vehicle and the nearest mile marker.
Authorities are discouraging motorists throughout the state from traveling until later Tuesday due to the extreme wintery conditions that have downed trees and coated roads with slippery black ice, resulting in more than 988 reports of disabled or stuck vehicles and 1,002 traffic crashes. Authorities also request that roadways remain clear to help expedite the clearing, treating and plowing of roads.