Stranded drivers tell their stories after ice makes Atlanta highways impassable

Stranded drivers tell their stories

(CNN) -- No one imagined a thin sheet of ice could wreak this much havoc.

Paralyzed by the glaze and gridlock, countless drivers in the Deep South spent the night shivering in their cars, unable to get home after more than half a day ... and counting.

Here are some of their stories:

Desperation and kindness

In the 12 hours that Ashley McCants contended with the ice and traffic, her SUV careened into a ditch twice.

It took her five hours to pick up her son from school. They spent another seven hours in the car, trying to get to their Atlanta home several miles away.

The day dragged into night. Finally, the sight of a nine-car wreck sent her over the edge.

"At that very moment, I thought, you know what, I need help -- I can't do this anymore. I need to get home."

So she vented her frustration on Facebook, and friends directed her to the page SnowedOutAtlanta. Within hours of the storm, more than 25,000 people joined the Facebook group to connect the stranded with those who might be able to provide shelter or supplies.

"I actually had a very nice, sweet family that took my son and I in," McCants said.

But to get to that home, she had to carry her 5-year-old son about 2 miles across the snow and ice.

"My big takeaway is don't give up. I sat in this traffic for 12 hours. It was all about faith and believing," McCants said. "There are good people all over the city no matter what. There were so many people willing to help me and my son, and I feel so blessed to be taken in by this family, even though it was a brutal day."

Sleeping outside Taco Bell

Mariano Castillo left work Tuesday afternoon. By midnight, he gave up and called it a night outside a Taco Bell.

"Nine hours in traffic and barely halfway home from the office," said Castillo, an editor at CNN. "Some stretches of highway looked like a vehicle graveyard, abandoned cars and stranded big rigs at irregular intervals."

During those hours, he witnessed acts of selflessness.

"I saw good Samaritans who helped ladies get up after a fall or push cars whose tires squealed with effort to grip the road. Others, I could tell, would not bend a finger to aid anyone if it meant giving up an inch of road.

"At one particularly gridlocked stretch, folks were able to leave their cars and walk to a CVS for supplies. You definitely were in the 'in' crowd tonight if you held your plastic CVS bag and its treasures like a designer handbag. ... Even I found myself looking hungrily at those with the plastic bags."

Then getting home was no longer a priority. Getting food was.

"I have given up my stubborn plan to make it home and have a cup of hot cocoa no matter the time," he said. "I found a 24-hour Taco Bell, spent my last $5 on a quesadilla and am closing my eyes in my trusty RAV4. I wonder what I will awake to."

Missing family members

Ana Maria Martinez said some of her relatives were still missing Wednesday morning.

"We haven't heard from our cousin and her two daughters since yesterday at 7. ... Their cell phones died," Martinez said. "They're in a dark blue Audi A6. ... The girls are 5 and 14. ... We would love to hear from someone who may have seen them to make sure they are OK."

Tonya Derr Buchter can relate to the agony.

"(Thirteen) hours and still no word on my son," she said on Facebook. "Hang in there everyone (it's) been tough."

Dodging semi-trucks

What should have been a 30-minute drive turned into a 10-hour nightmare for Joe Sutton, who was trying to come home from a doctor's appointment Tuesday.

"(I) was almost in multiple accidents as tractor-trailers were sliding all around me," said Sutton, a CNN news editor. "Semis were sitting in the middle of the freeways. Cars littered the ditches."

Even residential roads proved no safer.

"Any time I stopped my car I knew the risk was that I would start sliding or get stuck," Sutton said. "At one point, I was on a steep hill, and the cars in front of me and mine too started moving backward out of control. I was afraid we would end up in the river."

Pregnant and stranded

"(Nine) months pregnant on Thornton Road and Factory Shoals. Haven't eaten since 10 a.m. yesterday. Can't move my car due to the ice," Regina E. Coley wrote Wednesday morning on SnowedOutAtlanta.

"I tried calling for an ambulance but there's a major accident and they can't get down to me. (M)y car is out of gas and I'm starting to get cold, dehydrated and hungry. Please help!!"

Cathi Milanes was one of the many Atlantans who offered up her home.

"I live right on the corner of two major highways, so I figured I was in a convenient location," Milanes said. "I had an extra room and a bed, so it was a no-brainer to help."

By midnight, no one had taken up her offer -- in part because some couldn't reach her home.

One man got in an accident during the storm and injured his knee, Milanes said.

"His sister posted (about) him -- he was literally walking distance from my place," Milanes said. But because of his injury, "he couldn't walk to me if he tried."

Fortunately, she said, another good Samaritan picked up the injured man and took him home.

CNN's Faith Karimi contributed to this report.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.