January 17, 2022

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‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: Drivers Stranded for 24 Hours on I-95 in Virginia – NBC4 Washington

5 min read

Drivers have been stuck on a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in the Stafford County, Virginia, area for nearly 24 hours after multiple trucks crashed amid a major snowstorm that left snow and ice packed onto the road. Sen. Tim Kaine, who represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate, is among the people trapped on the highway. 

Many drivers are out of gas. Some don’t have food or water, and some say they have children, pets and family members with medical needs in the car.

Gov. Ralph Northam told News4 that Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Transportation and other state officials and crews are working nonstop to help people stranded in the gridlock. 

“This has been a difficult night for a lot of folks. I’m very sorry that people have been stranded. We’re doing everything we can to get to these individuals, whether it be [giving them] water or a place to be warm,” Northam said Tuesday morning. 

The governor resisted calls from social media users, including TV personality and author Meghan McCain, to deploy the National Guard. 

“They’re available, and they do a wonderful job. We have the resources we need right now, we just need to be able to get them where they need to be,” Northam said. 

Chopper4 flew over Interstate 95 on Tuesday morning, where drivers had been stranded for 15 hours or more.

Del. Todd Gilbert, who will soon become speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, is among those calling for Northam to mobilize the National Guard to rescue drivers. 

“Local first responders are doing everything they can, but with so many people stranded, the Commonwealth needs to bring all of its resources to bear,” Gilbert said in a statement. “It’s not enough for the men, women, and the heavy vehicles of the Virginia National Guard to be ‘available.’ They need to be activated to bring aid to those who need it and to help get the Interstate open again.”

VDOT expects to be able to get all vehicles off the highway on Tuesday, engineer Marcie Parker told reporters in an update midday Tuesday. A plan is underway to guide trapped vehicles to interchanges and alternate routes. Efforts to clear the highway are complicated by a number of vehicles that are out of gas, broken down or stuck in snow, VDOT said.

As of midday Tuesday, southbound traffic was at a standstill and northbound traffic had begun to creep forward.

Prince William County firefighters were seen handing out blankets and water bottles on Tuesday as the traffic nightmare continued.

Kaine told News4 on Tuesday morning that he’s spent more than 21 hours in his car. He left Richmond at 1 p.m. Monday to try to negotiate a voting rights deal in the Senate but still has not arrived. 

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he repeated. 

“This has been a miserable experience, but at some point I kind of made the switch to a miserable travel experience to a survival project,” he told our news partners, WTOP. 

Kaine cited “nice camaraderie” among the scores of travelers who are stuck, with people sharing food and drinks. 

Driver Anne Gould said traffic stopped on Monday afternoon while she was on her annual trek to Florida. By Tuesday at about 6:20 a.m., Gould said she had only moved ahead in the gridlock by a few car lengths.

“There’s cars and trucks as far as I can see behind me, and in front of me, and it’s looked like this for 12 hours,” she said Tuesday morning.

Both directions of I-95 were shut down between Ruther Glen, in Caroline County, and Exit 152 in Dumfries, Prince William County. That’s a stretch of more than 40 miles through the Fredericksburg area, which recorded 14.1 inches of snow Monday.

“We are working to get traffic moving again as best we can using every available interchange between Prince William & Caroline counties,” VDOT Fredericksburg said. “There are interchanges at the following mm: Exit 104, 110 Caroline, 118, 126 Spotsy, 130 FXBG 133, 136, 140, 143, 148 Stafford, 150 & 152 PW.”

Virginia State Police said the lengthy closure was implemented so crews could safely reach stranded motorists. The agency said it has responded to hundreds of crashes since the early Monday, but there have been few injuries and no deaths.

“This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes,” Parker, the VDOT engineer, said in a statement.

All southbound lanes of I-95 were shut down at mile marker 136 near Centreport Parkway after a crash involving six tractor-trailers at noon Monday. No one was hurt, but that collision contributed to major backups.

Towing crews, plows and Virginia State Police are helping with the effort. Crews are trying to move trucks blocking roads. Drivers were advised to call 911 if you know someone out there who needs urgent medical attention.

Nisa Semesta, who was stuck on the southbound side for more than 12 hours with two cats in her car, said drivers couldn’t even get off the interstate for supplies. Side roads were also impassable.

“We’re really worried about our access to food, water and sanitation at the moment,” said. “I know some people are starting to get worried about gas.”

Truck driver Emily Clementson suggested people ask truck drivers if they have extra supplies, such as snacks or water bottles. She said many truck drivers prepare in case they get stranded.

Clementson said the conditions changed as soon as she and a co-driver got into Virginia.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Clementson said.

Hundreds of drivers got stuck or in crashes throughout the region Monday as snow accumulated until about 3 p.m.

Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.

President Joe Biden arrived in Washington, D.C., in the middle of a snowstorm that’s expected to bring 10 inches of snow to the area.

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