‘No food and no hope’: Drivers stranded on I-95 in Va. are cold, hungry and asking for help

Have you or someone you know been stuck on I-95? Tell WTOP about your experiences.

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Driving on Interstate 95 has been a nightmare for Virginia drivers Tuesday morning following Monday’s major storm. Many have been trapped and asking for help.

It’s an unprecedented disaster for a lot of people.

“I’ve got 3 kids (and) we have been stuck since yesterday. Freezing nights and I have a baby on board. No food and no hope please help us letting the authorities know,” Paola Reynoso emailed WTOP.

Another said they’re missing their father’s funeral due to the disaster on I-95:

“We left Gaithersburg at 4:50am. To attend my father’s Funeral in Hampton, Va. Which is usually a 3 1/2 hour drive
We have been in traffic on 95 for over 2 1/2 hours
Doesn’t look like we are going to make it. The Funeral starts at 11am.
I tried to be there Daddy to say Goodbye
Love you”

Some listeners said they are trying to get to needed medical appointments and have been trapped for almost a day:

“Been stuck on i95n near exit 118 in VA since 11:30 am yesterday with our 6 month old daughter. There is no sign of movement. We need to take my dad to an essential surgery in MA by 7:30 am tomorrow. I hope we can come out of this soon and go home safely,” Samia Khan wrote.

Others are cold: “Haven’t moved since 3 pm … it’s 16 degrees. This is insane.”

“We need help, been out here for 18 hours and no help. This is ridiculous, please use your voice to get us help,” another wrote.

Jennifer Harper Thornett of McLean got through the cold ordeal driving alone with a limited amount of gas in the tank of her SUV, a small bag of pretzels and a bottle of water but no winter clothes.

“I was not well-prepared; when I left Northern Virginia, it was 70 degrees,” Thornett said. The mother of four drove one of her daughters to the College of William & Mary and left Williamsburg Monday at 4:30 p.m. She would not arrive home until Tuesday at around noon.

In Stafford County, she briefly pulled off the highway for gas at a station temporarily unable to accept credit cards. So she used the only money, she had to get $15 worth of gas, pretzels and water. With little help from her navigator, she returned to northbound I-95, where she spent the frigid night.

“I’m surrounded by a bunch of 18-wheelers, it’s pitch-black, I’m freezing, I don’t have any snow boots I don’t really have a coat,” said Thornett.

She got little sleep and said she waited for help that never came.

“There was no communication, there was no help, there was nobody on the ground. I would have thought there would have been volunteer firefighters….or policemen, nothing, not a soul,” said Thornett.

She said cell phone calls with her husband frequently dropped out and her navigator’s connection occasionally failed. Her husband tracked her and messaged her using the family locating sharing app Life360. After the long ordeal Thornett arrived home Tuesday afternoon.

Llinet Hernandez said she left Fredericksburg around 8 p.m. Monday and was stuck overnight with her three kids and pet dog. “We were lucky because we had a full tank of gas and I was able to keep them warm through the night. At sunrise anxiety hit my kids were hungry and saying they had a stomach ache. … Thanks to God who sent us some angels, a couple in front of us driving a grey Volkswagen gave us some snacks to hold over. We arrived to Woodbridge around 11 a.m.”

Even Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine was stuck.

“I started my normal 2 hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol. My office is in touch with @VaDOT to see how we can help other Virginians in this situation. Please stay safe everyone.”

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Kaine, who said he’s been in the car about 21 hours, told WTOP stranded drivers found some camaraderie while stuck, but he had two things that helped him: a heavy coat and a full tank of gas.

“It was really, really cold last night,” Kaine said.

Gas is an issue for many, the senator said.

“The problem is, a lot of people, when you’re stuck that long between, you know five miles from an interchange, and the traffic isn’t moving, folks are running out of gas,” Kaine said.

“We’re so packed on the interstate that it’s really hard to get an emergency vehicle and to get a car that’s disabled. And so then that becomes a block for others.”

Kaine said he doesn’t want to second guess Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to not bring in the National Guard, though they’re on standby.

Northam “had their reasons,” Kaine said. “And the governor, when he heard that I was out here, has reached out. I said, ‘You know just I don’t want anything I just want to be treated like everybody else.'”

Kaine said it was a miserable experience and a commute for the record books.

“But at some point, I kind of made the switch from a miserable travel experience into kind of a survival project,” he said.

WTOP Traffic Reporter Jack Taylor said there’s some movement on I-95 North near Quantico. He also said supplies are being brought to some stranded drivers.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein said that vehicles stranded for hours on Southbound I-95 are getting off exit 152 at Route 234/Dumfries Rd. shortly before 9 a.m.

“We know many travelers have been stuck on Interstate 95 in our region for extraordinary periods of time over the past 24 hours, in some cases since Monday morning. This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes. In addition to clearing the trucks, we are treating for snow and several inches of ice that has accumulated around them to ensure that when the lanes reopen, motorists can safely proceed to their destination,” Marcie Parker, P.E. VDOT Fredericksburg District Engineer said in a statement.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said officials are “doing everything that we can.”

Virginia officials are still asking people to stay off the roads.

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this story. 

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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