Hundreds of people spent a freezing night trapped on Interstate 65 in Cullman County after snow caused a series of wrecks that snarled traffic for miles.
It took almost an entire day, but the logjam on I-65 finally broke open Friday morning.
It began Thursday when the sleet and snow shut down the interstate in the Lacon Mountain area near exit 308.
Many drivers were stranded in their cars overnight, though some lucky drivers did make it to exits.
Businesses off the interstate were more than willing to serve some extra customers.
What you consider a haven could be relative to your situation. For many drivers who were stuck on Interstate 65 for hours and hours, if they could make it to a place like the Graves BP, it was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert.
"My parking lot was packed full," said Tim Graves, BP station owner.
In Cullman County, from day into night and through the next morning, traffic on an icy and wreck-filled I-65 varied between stop and a snail-like, foot-by-foot pace.
It seemed as soon as cars started moving at all, another tractor trailer jack-knifed, shutting down any inch of progress. Some drivers were stuck for 10 hours or more.
By the time some of the lucky drivers nearer to an exit got to a gas station, they had a lot of needs.
"I think every service station out here was packed full. People needed restrooms. They needed gas. They were thirsty, hungry. They were aggravated and they were ready to get home," said Graves.
Graves said with hotels filled for the night, some of the road-weary settled down right at the station. They kind of camped out until it cleared up, and some of them stayed overnight.
It was a short-lived business boost for businesses off of I-65, but like so many of those who had an unexpected and unwanted sleepover, Graves said he's glad the interstate is free and clear.
"They were probably ready to get home to their family and stuff. The sun was shining in Florence, and it was like being in Alaska here," he said.
The Red Cross set up a make-shift shelter at the Cullman Civic Center to house and feed those who could make it there. The Red Cross said more than 100 people showed up and stayed until 65 was cleared for traffic.
District Engineer Johnny Harris with the Department of Transportation said Mother Nature can be tricky, and every winter event is different.
While rare, an event like that has happened before and can happen again.
ALDOT officials said initial reports were that the winter weather would hit later in the day and farther east than it did.
When trucks jack-knifed, it caused a long backup due to the traffic flow on the interstate.
Harris said that backup prevented their trucks from working on the roadway to keep it from freezing up.
Harris said state troopers are tasked with closing and providing detours, but motorists between the exits were the most impacted.
"Nature is always unpredictable. You just try to have your best efforts put forward and try to just deal with the situation as it develops," said Harris.
He said local people are preparing an after event report for review.
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