WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Motorists were stranded overnight and into Tuesday on icy eastern Arkansas interstates, and the state was bringing fuel to people stuck so long that they ran out of gas, slowing efforts to make the roads passable.
The icy conditions have lingered since a weekend storm that dumped a half a foot snow on the ground in parts of the South, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Some drivers said they’ve been stranded at a West Memphis truck stop since Sunday night because they couldn’t get out of the parking lot.
Traffic was stalled Tuesday on I-55 southbound between Blytheville and West Memphis and ice created snarls over a 40-mile stretch of I-40 between Forrest City and the Mississippi River. Those areas had the most extreme tie-ups, but there were trouble spots scattered across almost the entire state.
“I understand that it takes a lot of money to buy salt and sand for the roads. Still, they knew ice was coming. They could have done better than what they have done,” said trucker Ted Simpson, 56, who was hauling a load of cardboard boxes from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Russellville, Ark.
Simpson got off the interstate in West Memphis and spoke while waiting for diesel in a half-mile line that stretched from a truck stop.
Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said members of the Arkansas National Guard and Game and Fish officers were bringing fuel to motorists who ran out of gas. The governor’s office also noted in a statement that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department “is constitutionally independent from the governor’s office and other state agencies.”
“We’ve been trying to figure out why the highway department wasn’t there quicker with treating those roads,” Beebe said. “They tell us that what happened to them, and I have to rely on what they say, that they did pre-treat them but the rain washed it off and then was suddenly hit with the ice.”
Highway department spokesman Randy Ort said it is no easy task to clear the roads when they’re packed with ice.
“We’ll get a jackknifed rig moved and traffic will move and then something else will happen,” Ort said.
Roads that did thaw were forecast to refreeze overnight. The storm was followed by a blast of arctic air that sent temperatures plummeting into the single digits, though the forecast for West Memphis calls for temperatures to rise in the next few days.
At a Petro truck stop, more than 100 tractor=trailers were stranded in the parking lot Tuesday.
Tom Pate, who was hauling grain from Owensboro, Ky., to Waco, Texas, was among those who said he’d been there since Sunday night He echoed the thoughts of many when he said the state failed to treat the roads ahead of the storm. Others complained that the truck stop had not done enough to clear its parking lot.
A message left for Ohio-based Petro after hours Tuesday wasn’t immediately returned.
Trucker Ralph Wilson, 62, said he called state police and traffic information to no avail.
“You’ve got millions of dollars of goods just sitting there, that are going right down the tube,” said Wilson, who was hauling steel from Fort Smith to Georgetown, Ky. “You can’t get a wrecker, you can’t get state police out here to do anything.”
With temperatures in the teens and single digits overnight, crews were limited in what they could accomplish, Ort said, noting road salt is ineffective when temperatures drop below 22 degrees.
On Interstate 40 from Tennessee into Arkansas, traffic edged along at 5 mph.
Sandra Lockhart Roberts said her car had moved little more than a mile in 45 minutes.
“It’s a total inconvenience,” she said. “It’s so stressful. Stressful. I have to calm down. Patience is a virtue.”
Trucker Daniel Rayford, 38, said it took him about nine hours to get from Little Rock to Memphis on Monday. The trip usually takes two hours.
“It’s crazy,” Rayford said in West Memphis, about 130 miles east of Little Rock. “To get to Little Rock from here, from what I saw last night, I might get there sometime tonight and it’s 11:15 a.m.”
Ort said state police had to stop what movement there was on the highways so tow trucks could reach disabled vehicles.
“People get very frustrated when they don’t see us working on the roadway,” Ort said. “If they’re not moving, then we can’t move. We understand their frustration.”