Deal, Reed at awards luncheon while storm hits, causing gridlock - CBS46 News

Deal, Reed at awards luncheon while storm hits, causing gridlock in Atlanta

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

UPDATE 1/30/2014 11:03am: Neely Young, editor-in-chief of Georgia Trend Magazine told CBS Atlanta News that Gov. Deal was at the awards luncheon for 15-20 minutes.

As a winter storm warning for metro Atlanta entered its third hour Tuesday, both the state's and city's top leaders were attending an awards luncheon rather than overseeing emergency planning and response. 

According to Anne Torres, Mayor Kasim Reed's deputy communications director, Reed received The 2014 Georgian of the Year award from Georgia Trend Magazine at about noon on Tuesday.  Torres confirmed Gov. Nathan Deal was present as well.  

While the two men celebrated, roads throughout the metropolitan area became gridlocked, and the state's emergency management operations center remained closed until late afternoon.

At a news conference Wednesday, Deal said Georgia Department of Transportation traffic maps turned "red" at 12:36 p.m., indicating traffic jams throughout the region.

Both men are receiving criticism that they were not prepared for and not properly informed about the pending winter storm, which stranded a large number of drivers and students in school buses on ice-covered roadways and interstates until Wednesday. 

"Considering all the facts and circumstances, I think we did a reasonable job," said Deal. "Could we have prevented it? That's the question." 

While other governors declared states of emergency before this recent winter storm hit their states, Deal waited until 5:15 p.m. Tuesday to announce a state of emergency, nearly five hours after roads became gridlocked and eight hours after the winter storm warning had begun.

When CBS Atlanta investigative reporter Jeff Chirico asked Deal whether he should have issued the declaration earlier, Deal said, "You may be right and that is a lesson we need to look at and see whether it would have made a difference in this circumstance."

CBS Atlanta has also learned the Georgia Emergency Management Agency's operation center was not open as late as 4 p.m. Tuesday. 

At Wednesday's news conference, GEMA Director Charley English attempted to deflect criticisms that he was unprepared but inadvertently revealed that he was uninformed about the conditions of roads.

"At 2 or 3 yesterday, it still had not gotten terrible on the roads," said English. "It wasn't as gridlocked as it is now."

But when asked if he agreed with that assessment, Deal said, "I'm afraid I don't. I was on the roads at that point in time and it was getting to be gridlocked."  

Deal said he responded to the winter storm based on forecasts from the National Weather Service which he claimed weren't "as accurate" as some local television meteorologists.

Deal pointed out that the Georgia Department of Transportation had positioned salt trucks and resources to areas south of the city, which the weather service had initially predicted would receive higher snowfall totals. 

"The indications were that ... it was going to be a dusting [in Atlanta]," said Deal. 

But the National Weather Service updated it's predictions at 3:39 a.m. Tuesday, increasing expected snowfall totals in the metropolitan area.

Despite that, Deal allowed government offices to open Tuesday and schools, local governments and businesses did as well. 

On Wednesday, Deal said gridlock may have been prevented if state and local governments and school districts staggered closings to avoid an unmanageable number of motorists hitting the roadways simultaneously.

"We don't want to be accused of crying wolf because if we'd been wrong, you'd all been in here saying, 'Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the city of Atlanta and Georgia by shutting down businesses in the state?'" said Deal to reporters.

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