Bentley extends emergency status as drivers, students stranded
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 28, 2014 | 3540 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, right, and Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Fowler, left, talk at the Montgomery Emergency Management offices in Montgomery, Ala., as they monitor the winter weather on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, right, and Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Fowler, left, talk at the Montgomery Emergency Management offices in Montgomery, Ala., as they monitor the winter weather on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)
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MONTGOMERY – Gov. Robert Bentley announced Tuesday that he’s extending his emergency declaration so state officials can help motorists and schoolchildren across the state who are stranded as a result of a winter storm.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” Bentley said. “People need to say at home. They need to stay there until conditions improve.”

Bentley and other state officials held a press conference in a Montgomery city communications center Tuesday to outline their response to a winter storm that covered much of Alabama with ice and snow. The storm had been predicted for days, but the snow faked out most forecasters, swerving toward north and central Alabama when meteorologists, and state officials, had expected it to hit worst in the Black Belt.

That shift took many communities by surprise. Bentley said drivers were stranded on roadways across the state, particularly in the highly populated Interstate 20 corridor.

“If you’re stuck in your car, stay in your car,” state emergency management director Art Faulkner said at the press conference, which was broadcast live by some news outlets. He urged stranded motorists to stay in their vehicles and call for help if they ran out of gas.

Bentley urged Alabamians to call 911 if they have an emergency – and to stay off the roads.

“You need to keep in mind that you need to dial 911 if you have a true emergency,” he said

Students were stranded at schools across the state Tuesday afternoon, Bentley said, largely because road conditions made it impossible for them to be picked up. The governor said state officials were preparing for some students to stay at schools overnight. Bentley said he did not yet know the total number of stranded students.

Bentley said loss of electrical power due to the storm has been minimal. If power in schools went out, creating a heating problem, Bentley said he’d send the National Guard to help students and staff leave schools.

Bentley and other officials warned all Alabamians to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. State offices will be closed Wednesday and will not open until at least noon Thursday, he said. Roughly 350 members of the National Guard have been activated to deal with the storm, Bentley said.

Bentley held a press conference Monday, before the snow hit, to announce that he was declaring a state of emergency and moving some road-maintenance equipment and other resources from the northern half of the state to South Alabama, where the storm was expected to be at its worst.

State officials said Tuesday that some of that equipment was being moved back north, though some was still needed where it was.

“We did not expect the freezing rain to go as far north as it has,” Bentley said.

The governor urged Alabamians to behave as they did after the tornado outbreak of 2011, when communities came together to help neighbors who were harmed by the storm.

Bentley said people shouldn’t take to the highway to check on neighbors, but should call or walk if possible. Otherwise, they should call first responders and ask them to check.

“Let’s do like we did during the tornadoes,” he said. “Let’s look after our neighbors. Neighbors look after neighbors in Alabama. That’s what we do.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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