A rare ice storm turned Atlanta into a slippery mess on Wednesday, stranding thousands for hours on frozen roadways and raising questions about how city leaders prepared for and handled the cold snap that slammed the US South.
The storm, which has killed at least seven people, on Tuesday swept over a region of about 60 million largely unaccustomed to ice and snow - stretching from Texas through Georgia and into the Carolinas - and forecasts called for more freezing weather on Thursday.
Overnight temperatures in the Atlanta region are expected to remain well below freezing, with temperatures in the U.S. Southeast dropping into the teens Fahrenheit (minus 10 to minus 7 Celsius) on Thursday. That could hinder efforts to clear ice-covered roads and abandoned cars that litter the region.
Georgia officials said on Wednesday that the real progress in cleaning up the region would not come until after the icy roads begin to thaw, which could happen midday Thursday, meteorologists said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came under fire for his response to a storm that trapped hundreds of children in schools overnight, some without provisions, and created traffic jams stretching for miles on roads coated with 2 inches (5 cm) of snow.
"Folks are angry with the mayor of Atlanta, with the governor," said Flavia DiCesare, 54, who spent the night in her office at Cox Enterprises in Atlanta, about 30 miles (48 km) from home.
The mayor said schools, businesses and government offices were partly to blame for sending all the workers home just as the storm was rolling in.
"During the day, we have a million to 1.2 million people in this city and all those people were out in very bad weather. It hampered our ability to get our equipment on the ground and to prepare our roads for that," Reed told a news conference.
"The error - and we have shared responsibility for the error - the error was letting everybody out at once," he said.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said all of Atlanta's school children had been safely returned to their families by Wednesday evening, with help from the National Guard and State Patrol.
Deal had earlier angered many - including local meteorologists - when he described the storm late Tuesday as "unexpected."
The comments prompted a sharp reaction from many residents - and meteorologists. In a blog published Wednesday, American Meteorological Society President J. Marshall Shepherd defended local weather forecasters, declaring "the Atlanta forecast