(CNN)–About 50 Atlanta school children were still stuck on buses early Wednesday morning.
The students had gotten on buses to get home shortly after noon Tuesday, but treacherous road conditions coupled with gridlocked traffic has made it impossible.
Kimberly Willis Green, spokeswoman for Atlanta Public Schools, said she did not have an estimate on the number of children stuck in Atlanta schools overnight.
Atlanta-based Home Depot opened up 26 stores in Alabama and Georgia for stranded travelers.
Spokesman Stephen Holmes said some of those who sought shelter spent time watching movies in store break rooms.
“At one store, they even opened up an indoor garden area to be a quiet area to open for reading,” he said.
All over the south cars were stuck in ditches beside icy roads. Thousands of children stranded at schools that parents can’t reach. Drivers camped out at gas stations with no way to get home.
As a winter storm slammed into a broad swath of the South on Tuesday, authorities warned drivers to stay off the streets.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said. “People need to stay at home. They need to stay there until conditions improve.”
Motorists in major metropolitan areas including Atlanta sat trapped in gridlock as schools and offices shut down, unleashing hordes of vehicles onto slushy roadways.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed urged residents to stop driving for at least a day to give crews a chance to clean up.
“The next 24 hours, I really need folks to stay home,” he told CNN affiliate WSB. “Go home, give us some time.”
While Northerners may laugh at their Southern friends’ panic over a dusting of snow, the threat is real: With relatively few resources to battle snow and ice, public works crews may have a difficult time keeping up with any significant accumulation.
Add to that the fact that millions of Southern drivers aren’t used to driving on snow or ice, and things got messy — fast.
Students stuck at schools
In Alabama, where freezing rain made driving perilous, at least five people were killed in weather-related traffic accidents Tuesday, state Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Steve Jarrett said.
Bentley declared a state of emergency and said he had activated 350 National Guard troops to help respond to the storm. Emergency officials warned drivers to stay off the roads and urged people stuck in their cars to stay inside.
“The weather right now, the temperatures and the wind chill, if you step out of your car, are very dangerous,” said Art Faulkner, the state’s director of emergency management.
In Birmingham, Melanie Wilson tried to drive after she got a message that her children’s school was closing Tuesday morning.
“Immediately, I almost had an accident,” she said. “The school buses were at the bottom of our hill and you could tell the drivers were not sure they should try to make it up the hill. We’re not sure where the ball was dropped. We heard it was going to be a light dusting with little accumulation.”
She ditched her car after it spun out on a steep hill, and trudged through the snow to pick up her children and make it home safely.
“The children enjoyed it,” she said. “It was beautiful, a winter wonderland. It was lovely except for worrying about everybody else who can’t get home to their families.”