Over a day after a snowstorm slammed into Virginia, stranding hundreds of drivers on a stretch of Interstate 95 south of Washington, many remained stuck in their cars on Tuesday afternoon without food or water as rescuers worked to free them.
A 40-mile stretch of the highway — one of the busiest travel corridors in the United States — came to a standstill overnight after a fast-falling snowstorm led to a jackknifed tractor-trailer and hundreds of other accidents. Some people abandoned their cars. Many, including a U.S. senator, spent the night on the snowy highway.
People were shivering for 20 hours or more in driver’s seats and truck cabs, watching fuel gauges sink over the sleepless night. State troopers slowly trudged from person to person, helping when they could with supplies. Tow trucks dragged car after disabled car out of the snow and ice.
“It’s been so horrible,” Arlin Tellez, 22, said in an interview on Tuesday morning from her car on the highway in Caroline County, about 80 miles south of Washington. She had been trapped there since 5 p.m. Monday without any food or water, and was layering on clothes she had packed in the car.
“There’s just no way for us to know what’s actually happening,” she said. “When we tried to call the police, because at this point that was our only resource, they literally just told us to hang on tight.”
The Virginia State Police said they had not received any reports of injuries or deaths related to the storm, but the authorities around the Mid-Atlantic said it had caused at least five deaths.
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said the state was sending an emergency message to stranded drivers and trying to reroute them.
Winter Storms in the United States
From the East Coast to the Western U.S., a barrage of winter storms has wreaked havoc across the country.
On Tuesday, Virginia officials said the storm quickly overwhelmed their efforts to keep the highway clear. Rain turned to sleet that turned to snow, which fell at a rate of two inches an hour for four to five hours, according to Marcie Parker, a Virginia Department of Transportation engineer.
“That was entirely too much for us to keep up with,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
Cars and trucks slowed, and then stopped, on their way up and down hills. At least one tractor-trailer slid sideways across the highway. In some places, Ms. Parker said, four inches of ice froze underneath vehicles, creating an impassable surface or locking them into place.
Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said that the authorities had responded to more than 1,000 traffic crashes and more than 1,000 disabled or stuck vehicles statewide. “We don’t believe that accounts for the vehicles on the 95 stretch,” she said.
Ms. Parker said a “significant” number of vehicles remained trapped on the highway. “I couldn’t even venture to guess.” Local news accounts and witnesses put the figure in the hundreds.
Ms. Parker said that crews and tow trucks may finish clearing the interstate of ice and vehicles by Tuesday night.
On social media, drivers reported being stranded for 12 hours or more. The ordeal began at about 1 p.m. for Tim…