Atlanta snow aftermath: Ice? melting. Stalled cars? Removed. Politics? Still snarled.

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Friday, January 31, 2014 - 8:00am

With almost the same vigor as icy weather sent greater Atlanta into traffic paralysis this week, state and local officials have swept up its aftermath.

That includes the removal of 2,029 abandoned cars by dawn Friday.

Most motorists picked up their stranded vehicles themselves, but others were confronted with a choice:

1. Get a free ride to their stalled cars, plus five gallons of free gas and a free jump-start.

2. Search for their cars at over a dozen impound lots, deal with their kaput condition themselves -- and maybe shell out a round of fees.

It wouldn't seem like a tough decision to make.

The state of Georgia offered the first option Thursday to those who abandoned their cars during this week's Southern snowpocalypse.

Officers ferried 153 people to their stuck cars and took plenty of fuel along with them, an emergency management spokeswoman said.

"They had two tankers of gasoline," said Lisa Janak. "Each held 3,000 gallons."

Now up to 181 drivers who didn't take that deal are stuck with the second option.

For hordes of other motorists it's good news. It means the nightmare is over.

By morning rush hour Friday, the last stranded car should be gone, Janak said. The state is kindly footing the bill for the towing, which began late Thursday.

Janak warned that the state of Georgia won't cover fees levied on motorists recovering their cars from impound lots.

Sometimes storage fees and notification fees also come due on impounded vehicles, one Atlanta towing company warns. So, costs can add up.

Even then, some drivers may be in luck.

If their vehicles were impounded by the Atlanta city police department -- one of the many agencies dealing with abandoned cars -- there will be no impound fee, police said in a statement.

Ice be gone

Some untreated roads are still icy in the region, but after the mercury drops to the low teens early Friday, warming weather will come back during daylight hours to assist with the ice removal.

High temperatures in the Southeast should rise to normal levels by Saturday, said CNN meteorologist Karen McGinnis. That would mean 54 degrees in Atlanta for this time of year.

By Sunday, the high should arrive in the 60's in parts of the Southeast, bringing rain with it, McGinnis said.

Political aftermath

The state of Georgia apologized for its late reaction to the winter storm.

Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters he was "not satisfied" with how officials dealt with the 2.6 inches of snow plus the sheets of ice that it turned into just as panicked motorists fleeing the flakes rushed into a massive gridlock throughout metro Atlanta.

In addition to students stranded at school, drivers camped out in their cars as lows dropped into the teens, or they abandoned them by the thousands.

"I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparation early enough to avoid these consequences," Deal said. "... I'm not looking for a scapegoat. I'm the governor, the buck stops with me."

Deal said he plans to take action like declaring a state of emergency earlier on -- even if it ends up being a false alarm.

The director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency apologized for not cranking up emergency operations six hours earlier than he did.

"I got this one wrong," Charley English said. "I made the decision not to do anything until later that morning."

Asked whether he planned to resign, English said, "That's not my call."

Deal was noncommittal about English's future, saying it was too early to talk about firing anybody.

Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed cited the mass exodus from his city as largely responsible for the gridlock.

He admitted a "lack of experience" in dealing with "severe weather events" in Atlanta also played a role.

Monster sprawl

As the mayor of the city of Atlanta, Kasim has managerial control over most, but not all, of Fulton County. But greater Atlanta comprises 28 counties with 140 cities and towns sprawled over an area the size of Massachusetts, and Kasim does not have administrative power over them.

Former Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who coordinated relief efforts along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, said things would have gone more smoothly this week if Atlanta's city government was more like New York's.

"They need to have in Atlanta the same type of government you have in New York, where the mayor controls the city and everything around that city, and the mayor can make decisions on road closures; he has emergency powers as when schools close," he said.

Atlanta traffic is characterized by dependence on automobiles. It does not have an expansive public transportation system like those in Boston and New York that can help ease traffic burdens in inclement weather.

The city is no stranger to traffic snarls, even without snow.

-- CNN's Holly Yan and Greg Botelho contributed to this report


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